Viktor Fischer whipped the corner into a dangerous area. There was a mass of bodies in front of Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster, but one man rose highest to nod the ball into the back of the net. Patrick Bamford wheeled away in celebration, having scored his first Premier League goal at the 27th time of asking. It did not really matter, though: Boro had already been relegated and went on to lose 2-1 to Southampton on that spring day in May 2017.
Until the start of this season, that header was the only top-flight goal of Bamford’s career. The striker came through at Chelsea but did not make a single senior appearance for the club. He had loan spells at four different Premier League clubs without making an impact. His struggles in the top tier with Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Burnley and Middlesbrough stood in contrast to his positive record in the Championship with Boro and Derby County. It seemed as if Patrick Bamford was simply not cut out for life at the top table.
Such notions have been dismantled this season. Bamford was central to Leeds United’s 3-1 victory over Leicester City on Sunday, scoring one goal and setting up the other two. He has now found the back of the net 11 times this term, a tally bettered by only Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. Even Leeds fans did not see this coming. The Englishman is now among the outsiders to win the Premier League Golden Boot.
It is fair to say that, while Marcelo Bielsa’s faith in the striker never wavered, that of the Leeds fan base did. Bamford started 43 of Leeds’ 46 games in the Championship last time out. Eddie Nketiah and Jean-Kevin Augustin were brought in on loan at different points of the campaign, but neither was able to dislodge Bamford up top.
The former Chelsea man scored 16 goals in 2019/20. He probably should have got more. According to Wyscout, Patrick Bamford racked up an xG rate of 24.26 throughout the campaign. That suggests he scored eight fewer goals than he ‘should’ have.
Many interpreted that as a negative, arguing that such profligacy would be more costly in the Premier League. Bielsa saw it as a positive. The Argentine’s interpretation focused on the fact that Bamford was continually getting into the right positions. The Leeds boss also appreciated his intelligent movement, tidy link-up play and willingness to press from the front. The Whites thus did not pursue a new striker in the summer transfer market, with Rodrigo Moreno converted into a No.8 after initially being viewed as a replacement for Bamford.
The Englishman is now repaying his manager’s faith. Patrick Bamford has been much more clinical this season. His return of 11 goals almost perfectly aligns with an xG of 11.4. And the 27-year-old is not just about putting the ball in the back of the net either. He was widely praised for his assist for Jack Harrison in Sunday’s win at the King Power Stadium. Bamford teed up his better-positioned team-mate despite being one-on-one with Kasper Schmeichel.
“I’d love to say I don’t think about it, but all strikers do,” he said after ending a four-game goal drought against Leicester. “As long as I keep putting myself in the positions. Today was more important to give a good performance because the last couple of games I’ve been a little bit off it. That was the main aim and then it’s always nice to get a goal.”
It has been a long time coming, but Patrick Bamford is finally making his mark in the Premier League. Could he yet play himself into contention for Gareth Soutgate’s Euro 2020 England squad this summer?