The fortnight just gone easily ranks as the biggest of Tyler Roberts’ career to date: an international debut for Wales last week and a league debut for Leeds United at Millwall yesterday. The New Den has beaten more seasoned professionals than him but on a different day he might have taken the match ball from it.
Roberts is Marcelo Bielsa’s third centre-forward, very much part of the squad at Elland Road, but his inclusion at Millwall came down to circumstance. Patrick Bamford is out until after Christmas with a damaged knee ligament and Kemar Roofe will be missing until the end of the month with a calf injury. It left Bielsa so short of strikers in London that 17-year-olds Jack Clarke and Ryan Edmondson were on the bench.
Roberts is himself only 19 but after several loans in the Football League and international appearances at at various levels, he has a leg up on Clarke and Edmondson. Bielsa gave Roberts the nod at Millwall and watched him pass up four good chances; a player in the right positions but lacking the killer touch.
Roberts was unfortunate with his first, driving a shot against the back of Murray Wallace after Mateusz Klich picked out the run of Barry Douglas and played the left-back in behind Millwall’s defence. His second, just before half-time, was of his own making, shrugging off Wallace and advancing on Ben Amos but failing to beat the Millwall goalkeeper.
Millwall 1 Leeds United 1: The stats that show how Bielsa's defence stood tall to earn battling point at The Den
It went that way in the second half too: a scuffed shot across goal from an angle after his run found a clever pass from Gjanni Alioski and a glancing header which lacked the power to sneak past Amos on his line. On all but one occasion Roberts had the keeper to beat but Bielsa was happy to see him on the end of so many chances in the first place.
The challenge for Roberts was influencing the game consistently in open play: 19 touches and 11 passes in the 68 minutes he was on the pitch. Leeds struggled to make possession stick in attack and it was Jack Harrison - pushed up front after Roberts’ substitution - who snatched an equaliser in the penultimate minute. Link-up play and sharp finishing were Roofe’s strengths in August and United’s visit to Millwall did much to underline the quality of his performances last month.
Bielsa, nonetheless, was satisfied with Roberts. “Some people value the strikers when they score a goal,” he said, “but I prefer to value them taking into account the number of chances they have to score.
“He had three or four chances to score and if he had scored one goal we would be all saying he had a wonderful performance. I think he did a correct performance, a good performance.”