Leeds United 0
I was confident that the game last night would be a draw; I expected both teams to score mind. Of course, I’ve been confident of draws in previous games this season and Leeds have usually surprised me, and I suspect many of our fans, by completely dominating and humbling sides we considered to be amongst the likely pace-setters this season. But I think in Middlesbrough we finally came up against a side that is certain to be a force to be reckoned with all season and one that already had most of the credentials necessary last season; Tony Pulis’ side has merely added more strength this summer and continues to progress in a manner they know will be hard to counter. Wins in their previous two league games against Bristol City and, albeit more fortunately, West Brom, showed they were already in the groove too. A case can be made to suggest that the other sides we’ve already despatched – Stoke, Derby and Norwich in particular - are all still coming to terms with something very different this season and will take time to adjust to the rigours of Championship football.
Leeds therefore faced a stiff test and we know how our side last season often failed such a test particularly remembering that dire day down in Millwall last September and that freezing Friday night at the Riverside when we all battled through the snow to see our heroes perform like lambs at the slaughter house. That Millwall side and the Boro side we faced last March were both founded on brute strength and Championship knowhow in spades, both would challenge for the top six and both got to that position with a particular brand of football; they were tough, streetwise and efficient if not pretty to watch. So, Boro brought another side very much in that image to Elland Road last night but this time Leeds passed the test. We too were strong when we needed to be in grappling with the likes of the giant Ayala and Flint and the bear like figure of Brit Assombalonga and yet we were strong without sacrificing our fundamental style or footballing morals that Marcelo Bielsa has created. All we were lacking was the guile of Pablo Hernandez to provide that moment of magic needed to deceive the Boro defence.
There are lots of pictures and footage of Ayala’s antics doing the rounds today and it is credit to the Leeds side as a whole that we didn’t get dragged into the retaliation that his actions are designed to elicit. In the equivalent game last season at Leeds of course, the famous James Mainwaring game, Ayala succeeded in winning his side a penalty through sheer deceit and skulduggery which Assombalonga despatched but fortunately it was not enough to avoid them going down 2 – 1. As we have done in so many areas, we have improved our ability to deal with idiots like Ayala.
So, we close the first section of the season with an identical record to last season after six games when we were also top of the early league table and unbeaten. The same period last season had one extra game in it which we also won to leave us on 17 points, unbeaten and top of the pile when the first international break arrived. When it finished, our first game was away at Millwall and the fixture computer has paired us with the Lions at the Den again this time around, in a fortnight’s time. I am more confident this time that we will go there and be able to impose our style on the game and, Pablo Hernandez fitness permitting, I think we’ll see a very different outcome.
Leeds Utd Boro
Possession 62% 38%
Shots 11 9
On Target 3 3
Corners 6 5
Fouls 11 16