You could sum up the Aston Villa game in two words. Hat-trick Bamford. Ok, that might be three words for the grammar police, but you know where I’m coming from. But I have to say, while Patrick will take all the headlines, and deservedly so, I think the whole team performance at Villa was the best I’ve seen by a Leeds team for 20 years.
That might sound a strong statement, but it was as good as anything I remember playing in when we were doing well in the Premier League, it was that good.
Villa had been going well – they put seven past Liverpool a few weeks ago – and listening to people in the build-up to the game, all the talk seemed to be about what a tough test this would be for Leeds.
Villa are big, strong, and have some real quality players, and people thought physically they might dominate Leeds, but the likes of John McGinn and Jack Grealish didn’t really get a look in.
Looking at the game as a whole, it was such a brave move bringing young Jamie Shackleton on so early. Pascal Strujijk will have been gutted to go off after 20 minutes, it was a bold call by Bielsa, but Shackleton came on and did excellent. It’s great to see him get on and do well. He wasn’t afraid to put himself about which was good. And there were performances all over the pitch like that.
Luke Ayling was fantastic once again. Has been outstanding this season. He reads the game well and he makes loads of blocks that maybe people don’t notice. Him and Stuart Dallas for me are the two most improved players in this country. They are both big leaders as well. They are the voice of the team and they are the heartbeat now with Kalvin Phillips out. Ayling led by example. I’m getting goosebumps talking about it because the type of commitment he showed…it was proper defending and he was outstanding. Jack Harrison bounced back at Villa and it was like night and day to the Wolves game. Maybe Bielsa got into one or two of them after that game, I don’t know, but everyone stood up and was counted.
You only really saw Jack Grealish once. He created one great opportunity, and Meslier made a fantastic save. He’s another who has been outstanding. If we thought we might be vulnerable in that position this season, there’s no question of that because he’s really stepped up to the mark. You need a goalkeeper to step up like he has, and you can see the confidence his team-mates have in him. You need your keeper to pull you out of the s*** sometimes. We had it with Nigel Martyn and Meslier has brought that to this team.
And there’s the hat-trick hero. It was his first in the Premier League and only the second of his career – his first, ironically came against Leeds when he was playing for Middlesbrough. His smile at the end of the game said it all and I was so pleased for him.
Because I interviewed him recently I got to listen to him, and he made a huge impression on me as a person. He’s lovely guy and he has a great personality. He talked about helping young players and that’s a great characteristic. You don’t see that very often with centre forwards. I don’t think any striker will argue that they can be selfish – and believe me, that’s no bad thing – but he’s all about the team.
We talked about confidence – it’s something I struggle with nowadays after everything that’s happened – but you can never knock him for being bold and having a go, whether it’s for him or someone else, and bringing them into it. He’s happy to do the doggy work, but he’s also getting into areas where he can affect games and score goals. Any striker I speak to tells me the hardest thing is to score goals, especially in the Premier League. He also really showed he can stand up physically. Tyrone Mings is a big strong defender, but he didn’t bat an eyelid. And his response to that little clash between the two was to go and bang in a hat-trick. When you look the likes Salah, and Mane…Patrick is capable of getting on their path.
Obviously, he took the headlines but there were a lot of players who were up there with him for the man of the match because the performance was so, so good.
I’d listened to Gabby Agbonlahor before the match saying he couldn’t understand all the fuss about Bielsa and that people should look at what Villa have done. He’ll be eating humble pie now. You have to be able to back claims like that up, and Leeds simply delivered a top, top performance.