Patrick Bamford’s initial target for a comeback from injury was next month’s FA Cup tie at Queens Park Rangers and a swifter return is not the end of his recovery process. The striker expects to play in a small amount of pain for as long as two months while the damage caused by a snapped knee ligament subsides completely.
Bamford has scar tissue in the joint and will take time to play his way through it but his goalscoring appearance at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday made every niggle worthwhile.
Leeds United have been waiting for the £7m they spent on Bamford to begin paying off and five minutes was all it took for him to show that his touch and instinct were intact.
United’s head of medicine and performance, Rob Price, has a reputation for cutting the time injured players spend in rehabilitation and the expectation that Bamford would be available on the first weekend of January was comfortably exceeded when the 25-year-old made the bench for a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers 10 days ago.
Marcelo Bielsa saw no need to use him in that match but Bamford was his go-to substitute on Saturday with a scrappy game at Bolton entering the final half-hour and still goalless.
Bamford had played in only five league games before injuring his knee in September and is yet to start a Championship fixture for Leeds.
There is, to coin a phrase, much more to come from a forward who United settled on as their marquee signing in the summer after courting Abel Hernandez and Matej Vydra.
“I’m just hoping to help the team now,” Bamford said.
“I want to help them as well as I can and however that might be.
“It’s probably going to take me a month or two months before I start playing without pain. It’s one of those things where the scar tissue is still fat and thinning down and it’s going to be a bit restrictive behind the knee.
“As time goes on it’ll ease off and get back to normal but I feel like I’m ready to play games. It’s just a case of dealing with it.”
Bamford’s transfer from Middlesbrough in July made him Leeds’ most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler’s arrival from Liverpool 17 years earlier, a huge sum by the club’s recent standards.
The sale of Ronaldo Vieira to Sampdoria helped pay for his signature but the expenditure on Bamford was an unusually heavy outlay. “There probably is a bit of pressure on me,” Bamford admitted when he signed.
Five months on, the urge to contribute to a hugely-promising Championship season will be greater again.
His winner at Bolton took Leeds back to the top of the division and opened up a six-point gap to third place, a healthy cushion protecting the club’s automatic promotion position.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a weight off my shoulders because there wasn’t any pressure,” Bamford said. “It’s just about me knowing I can play with my knee being fine. It’s having the confidence of being able to use that as a standing leg, and obviously I scored with my right foot. Everything coming together puts your mind at ease.
“I’ve been itching to get back out there but we’d originally aimed for the FA Cup so we’re maybe three weeks ahead of where I thought I’d be. That’s testament to the staff and the programme they’ve put together. There were times throughout the rehab where I thought there was going to be the little setback here and there but I knew I had a few weeks to play with. It’s gone quite smoothly.”
Bamford’s only other goal this season, in the Carabao Cup, came at home to Bolton and they are turning into a side who he would happily play every week. Leeds would be equally happy to meet a team with so many limitations regularly but Bielsa’s squad head to Aston Villa next, for an enticing pre-Christmas fixture.
Dean Smith, Villa’s manager, made a name for himself with open, ambitious football and Villa’s fixtures are coming with a guarantee of goals.
They are averaging more than two a game under him but have conceded plenty too and a run of seven games without defeat still leaves them eighth, 12 points behind Leeds ahead of Sunday’s clash.
“It’s going to be a big test,” Bamford said. “They’ve scored a lot of goals in the last few games and they’re not having a problem there but it’s going to be interesting. We’ll be up for it.”
Bielsa would not think of it like this but Leeds have earned themselves some margin for error ahead of the usual glut of matches over Christmas.
Daylight has opened beneath United and second-placed Norwich City, although Bamford was cautious about the six-point gap to third which appeared over the weekend.
“It’s only two games and six points,” Bamford said. “In the Premier League if Chelsea or whoever were six points ahead and top then you’d say they were running away with it but in this league it’s completely different. Anyone can beat anyone and it can all change on the flip of a coin.
“But the way the club have bought into (competing for promotion) and the way they’ve set everything up for it by bringing in a coach like Marcelo, they’ve really set their aim out.
“We can’t get carried away and ultimately it comes down to the way we work as players but we’ve got to buy into everything Marcelo is teaching us and we are at the minute.”