Liam Cooper praised a “flying” Tyler Roberts after revealing the striker had played through the pain of a toe injury to claim the winning goal in Leeds United’s 1-0 victory at Hull City on Tuesday.
Roberts shook of pre-match doubts about his fitness to lead the line at the KCOM Stadium and settle the game with a 51st-minute effort.
The 19-year-old has been thrust to the front of Marcelo Bielsa’s line-up by injuries to Kemar Roofe and Patrick Bamford but Tuesday’s goal was his third in four games and enough to return Leeds to the top of the Championship on the night.
United were guilty of missing four clear chances in the first half, a repeat of the issue which saw them held to a 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday last Friday, but Roberts’ third goal of the season was enough to see off Hull and earn Leeds their sixth league win.
The absence of Roberts would have forced Bielsa to turn to youngster Ryan Edmondson or field a team without a recognised centre-forward. A calf strain has sidelined Roofe for the past month and Bamford will not play until the new year due to a knee ligament injury.
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United captain Cooper said: “We’ve scored a lot of goals but sometimes it takes that bit of magic for someone to come up with and this time it was Tyler.
“He was struggling before the game with a toe injury and credit to him. He went on the pitch and pulled it out the bag for us. He wants to play, he wants to score goals and that’s the type of person he is.
“He’s played very well and the boy’s flying. He’d been struggling before the game but he’s pulled through and it was a great finish again at a great time. We needed that.”
The forward took aim from 10 yards outside Hull’s box, finding the bottom corner of the net with a clean hit which beat goalkeeper David Marshall low to his right.
“When he hit it you think ‘what are you shooting from there for?’ Cooper said. “Then it goes in the bottom bin, you run over and go mad. I’m absolutely buzzing for him but hopefully that’s the third of many.”
Roberts’ career with Leeds is up and running after the shin injury which kept him out for six months following his £2.5m arrival from West Bromwich Albion in January.
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The Wales international was unable to make any impression at Leeds last season but he was thrown into a full league debut by Bielsa at Millwall four weeks ago after Roofe and Bamford sustained injuries in the first international break.
Roberts is playing in the Championship for the first time but Bielsa said: “He’s not (intimidated) by the competition, in spite of his age. He’s adapted himself very easily.
“From a technical point of view his answers are always positive ones, and also from a physical point of view. I think he’s a player with character and personality. He can express his virtues, his skills. He’s a young player and a serious player.”
Leeds are expected to confirm the details and severity of Barry Douglas’ injury later today after the left-back pulled a muscle towards the end of Tuesday’s win over Hull.
The Scot has been ever present at left-back in the Championship this season but looks likely to miss Saturday’s clash with Brentford at Elland Road.