PATRICK BAMFORD says he has returned an improved player for his second season at Leeds United and a tougher customer who will expect nothing from the referees.
Former England under-21 international Bamford became United’s most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler in 2001 when joining Leeds for £7m from Middlesbrough last summer.
Bamford, though, started the season on the bench with Kemar Roofe given the nod in the lone striker role and the first of several difficult hurdles Bamford would need to negotiate presented itself in September when the striker damaged a knee ligament gaining match minutes with United’s under-23s.
Four months on the sidelines followed as the forward missed 15 league games with the striker then making a goalscoring comeback in the 1-0 victory at Bolton Wanderers on December 15 only to suffer a separate knee ligament injury in training.
Another two months and seven games out followed before Bamford again made a goalscoring comeback in the 3-1 loss at home to Norwich City at the beginning of February but the personal challenges of Bamford’s season were still not done.
The striker was involved in an altercation with Anwar El Ghazi during the spicy 1-1 draw against Aston Villa at Elland Road in April with the forward falling to ground and holding his face despite El Ghazi making minimal contact.
Bamford received a two-match ban for successful deception of a match official, missing the first leg of United’s play-offs semi-final as a result.
Speaking in July, the striker admitted that he regretted his actions and that he would be making a concerted effort to avoid gaining a reputation for milking decisions.
Two months on, the 25-year-old has been putting in the hard work to fulfil that aim – strengthening up over the summer and insisting Leeds now have a better player on their hands for his second campaign.
“I know where I needed to improve,” said Bamford.
“I have done bits and bobs and I did a fair bit in the off season, not with regards to fitness but just with strength and stuff after the knee injury last year.
“I just did certain things to make sure that I kept ticking over. Strength work was something that I carried on doing and, for me, it was almost like a change in mindset of not expecting the ref to give you anything.
“That’s no disrespect to the refs – they have to judge it how they see it and sometimes I am giving just as much as the defender is giving me.
“It’s just stay on my feet this year and try and be much stronger.
“As soon as I came back into training, my yo-yo score with the fitness tests that we do was higher and that was the same for every single player in the team, so I think we have had a good base to start from.
“Pre-season is hard, it’s rigorous and a rigorous regime but it’s obviously standing us in good stead for the season because that kind of lays the foundations to push on from for the 46 games, so I think it is worth it. It’s tough at the time but it definitely pays off.”
Those hard yards certainly led to the desired outcome in Sunday’s season opener at Bristol City in which Bamford opened his account for the season at the first time of asking when heading home a Pablo Hernandez cross to put Leeds 2-0 up en route to a 3-1 victory.
The striker had to endure his fair share of stick from sections of the Whites’ support last term when goalscoring opportunities were squandered but a fine, all-round showing led to the away end singing the striker’s name as he left the Ashton Gate turf on Sunday evening.
“It was nice,” said Bamford.
“I don’t really know why they wouldn’t do that but the fans singing your name is nice to hear wherever you are, whatever club you are at.
“The fans are entitled to their opinion. Some of them think I’m bad, some of them think I’m good, that’s just how it is and to me it doesn’t matter what they think. It’s not going to change how I think of myself as a player.
“I know what I’ve got to do and what I’ve got to work on and keep working on. If I do that I am sure I will be all right.”
If Bamford is netting the goals, Leeds ought to be in good hands too and the striker says Leeds will now reap definite rewards with head coach Bielsa back at the club for a second year in charge.
“It’s always nice to have that bit of being stable almost,” said Bamford.
“You see that nowadays clubs change their manager all the time and it doesn’t help you.
"I think last year, Marcelo was getting his ideas across to us and I think we have learnt them so now it’s easier to pick up from those ideas and build on them.
"It will be harder this year because teams know us now. Last year there was a bit of the surprise factor and teams didn’t know what to expect.
“But we have got to find ways of getting around that and the good thing is that it’s just a joy to play that kind of football.”