Patrick Bamford finds himself in the bearpit of England nearly-men after goalless debut vs Andorra

The Leeds United man drew a blank on his Three Lions bow.

Over the course of the past 12 months, few Premier League players have inspired the same level of debate and keyboard-smashing back and forth as Patrick Bamford.

Adored by many, discredited by more still, the Leeds United talisman is line-leading Marmite, revered and sneered at in almost equal measure.

Judging by the divided reaction to his long-awaited England debut on Sunday evening, the verbal tug-of-war over his relative merits and their suitability to the international stage show little sign of abating any time soon. In fact, you could say that his showing at the weekend has opened something of a Pandora’s box.

Patrick Bamford. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)Patrick Bamford. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Patrick Bamford. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

To be fair, had Bamford actually made more of an impact in Andorra's box, the conversation surrounding him would perhaps be a little more clear cut.

Pragmatically, the minnows rocked up at Wembley with all the gusto and attacking intent of a sloth in lead diving boots. Their aim was to keep damage to a minimum, and had they been offered a 4-0 defeat before the first whistle, they probably would have taken it. In that respect, fair play to them.

But their insistence on venturing no further than spitting distance from their own 18-yard line made for a very frustrating introduction to international life for Bamford.

Overt openings proved elusive for the the 28-year-old – he was limited to just two shots, one of which was on target, and even then it had a paltry xG of 0.13.

Patrick Bamford warms up alongside teammates during a training session. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Patrick Bamford warms up alongside teammates during a training session. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Patrick Bamford warms up alongside teammates during a training session. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

In terms of his display writ large, we saw all the hallmarks of the endeavour and tenacity that we’ve come expect from disciples of Marcelo Bielsa's lung-shattering tactical approach, but ultimately, watching Bamford on Sunday was a bit like watching a Scalextric – plenty of movement that never really ended up going anywhere.

With that in mind, it was perhaps unsurprising to see him come flying off the track just after the hour mark, hooked by Gareth Southgate in favour of Captain Fantastic himself, Harry Kane.

And that presents Bamford with an obvious, and rather uncomfortable, question. Where does he go from here?

Was this his one and only chance to prove himself for the Three Lions, against a team ranked 156th in the world, no less? Detractors might argue that his failure to find the back of the net against such a feeble defence is akin to perusing a wedding buffet with a rumbling stomach and still returning to your table with an empty plate.

The truth is that only Southgate will know the answer with regards to Bamford’s fate going forward. The reality could be that even he doesn’t know it yet.

But there's no denying that the Leeds star now faces an uphill battle to cement his spot in the boss’ affections.

Barring a meteorite careering into north London in the coming months, or something much more benign and ordinary like a late injury, Kane will head into next year’s World Cup as England’s first choice striking option. Even against Poland in midweek, it’s hard to imagine Southgate benching the Spurs juggernaut for a second consecutive match.

Behind him, Dominic Calvert-Lewin continues to go from strength to strength at Everton, while Mason Greenwood looks set to finally enjoy the kind of breakout campaign for Manchester United that he has seemingly been on the verge of for so long – or at least he did until the Reds decided to bring back water-chugging attention vacuum Cristiano Ronaldo for one last intravenous shot of sweet, sweet nostalgia.

In that trio alone, Southgate might have his centre-forward roster wrapped up before he’s even booked a flight to Qatar.

But then, grappling away in the bearpit below, each desperately trying to claw their way out of obscurity and into warm glow of the manager’s gaze, we have the likes of Danny Ings, Ollie Watkins, Tammy Abraham, maybe even Ivan Toney and Callum Wilson. It’s in this company that Bamford finds himself at the moment.

Perhaps his biggest advantage at this stage is simple recency bias. The fact that he’s in Southgate’s plans right now is a good sign, as is the boss’ apparent commitment to a meritocratic selection process. If Bamford can keep scoring for Leeds, and if he’s impressed behind the scenes over the past week or so, it won’t go unnoticed.

You would like to think that we’re long past the days of strikers like David Nugent and Michael Ricketts picking up solitary nods before sinking into the quicksand of domestic mediocrity, never to be seen again.

Ultimately though, the tussle for a place in this England squad is as fierce and as hotly-contested as it has been in many, many years, and the fact of the matter is that Bamford cannot afford to take the promise of a second cap for granted.