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Sphere on Spiral Stairs

Middlesbrough      3 (Jones 7, Latte Lath 30, 87)                                    

Leeds United        4 (Summerville 14 pen, 61, Bamford 18, Gnonto 39) 


22nd April 2024, EFL Sky Bet Championship


What a game of football that was! Games like that are the reason we love the game – tossing the emotions one way and then another with every twist and turn. I imagine it’s the sort of game that Manchester CIty fans secretly yearn for when they know most weeks they are going to the Etihad just to see their team walk over the opposition! Yes, it was nice when we had such a run early in the season but it’s also nice to see our heroes having to fight for a win now and again! As to my heart? Well, it will survive!

If ever there was a must win game, this certainly felt like it, and not knowing what Ipswich and Leicester are going to come up with in their last three games, we really had to put three more points on the board and that we did. We did it at a tough venue too, against a team unbeaten in nine games and one that Southampton, Leicester and Ipswich have all failed to beat in recent weeks. To achieve the win, Daniel Farke reverted to the tried and trusted by bringing back Bamford and Byram – a move many Leeds fans had mentioned would happen.

That was the reason that conceding that early goal to them really hurt and I am sure all Leeds fans had that sinking, here we go again feeling at the time especially since it appeared that Lady Luck had already chosen her team. OK, it was poor of Willy Gnonto to get caught in possession and robbed right on the touchline in front of the Leeds fans even if he may have been fouled, but then the fact the ball took a lucky deflection off the leg of Ilia Gruev from Finn Azaz’s through ball straight to the dangerous Latte Lath was just, well, our luck. It completely wrong-footed Ethan Ampadu too. It was still then a defensive mess though as Illan Meslier failed to get his hands on the ball largely because Joe Rodon’s lunge knocked it away from him! Jones Isaiah Jones prodded it into an open net. Yep, the whole thing just felt like those football gods were amassing against us.

We’ve seen a few times this season though that an early shock can really fire us up – remember all those times we fell behind in the early weeks of the season. This time again we didn’t let it unduly affect our morale. Neither had the many calls for Georginio to be dropped affected his morale as he stormed along the left wing, drove into the box and was then brought down for a penalty. You see the thing is with Georginio, as I’ve mentioned before, the very nature of the way he plays on the edge will mean he often loses the ball – much as Pablo used to do. BUT every now and again, his charging bull type runs will produce something, as it did on this occasion. You cannot make an omelette without losing a few eggs and so it is with Georgi, there will be balls lost but, as sure as eggs is eggs he will also produce assists. Interestingly and appropriately, it was Luke Ayling’s full back replacement that brought him down! There was the now regular teasing as Paddy Bamford took hold of the ball but smiles were exchanged and the Leeds fans roared their approval as he handed it to Cree who struck it perfectly to beat the keeper.

Thankfully that quietened the home fans and we could start to dominate the stadium atmosphere. I think we all knew too that if ever Patrick Bamford was going to have a good game, this was probably the stadium he’d do it in – the scene of that hat-trick he once scored against us! Sure enough, within four more minutes Leeds worked their way up that same left wing and eventually it was Junior Firpo launching the ball into no man’s land along the six yard box and Paddy was more alert than the Boro defence to get his chest on the ball while others dithered. The game was panning out very similar to the reverse fixture, which saw Leeds win that 3 – 2 with five first half goals.

And that’s exactly what happened here. We had ten minutes of calm and then, boom, Boro were level again. Funnily enough that man Latte Lath got two goals at Elland Road and he was soon to get his first on this night. Again, there have to be question marks against our defending, first losing possession, and it was one of those Georginio ‘omelette’  moments this time, and then allowing the most dangerous forward they have to run across our area and allow him to lash the ball into the net – you’d think we get enough practice at trying to stop runs like that against Cree Summerville in training. Question marks against Illan too, was he slow to spot where that one was going? 2 – 2 and those annoying home fans on their toes again.

There have been a couple of things missing from our play in recent games, the sparkle of our front players and, I have to say it, a bit of luck! Today both were back in place. We’d already seen Georgi’s sparkling feet and Paddy’s instinctive finish, now it was the turn of Cree and Willy to link up brilliantly as Cree slid the ball through the Boro back line and Willy read the move perfectly and smashed the ball home. Yes, Willy was clearly a yard offside, but hey, we were due some luck after the run of poor ref calls we’ve had recently. 3 – 2 to Leeds just as it was at Elland Road at half time.

The second half was a strange one, Daniel Farke suggested after the game that we purposely decided to sit back and try to do to teams what most had done to us recently, soak up pressure and play on the break and for the most part it worked to perfection. Boro bossed the possession but created few chances and then, out of the blue Leeds scored again with more Summerville magic and one of his trade mark goals. Junior Firpo needs great credit too for the way he engineered the break in midfield. It was Junior who started the move from out wide and then moved inside to play a lovely running one-two with Georginio who was again quickly aware of where Firpo was going. He played it wide to Cree and he did the rest one of his typical curling shots that caressed the right post on the way in after he cut inside from the left. How many times has he scored that exact same goal this season? The only surprise was that he missed a similar one minutes later! Incidentally it was Dijksteel, the man in for Luke Ayling who was caught out of position again when Firpo burst through. When the likes of Cree, Willy G, Bamford and Georginio are on it we are a very decent side.

That should have been it for the night and we got to the final ten minutes with the usual array of substitutions on both sides and then, out of nothing Boro got back in the game. You can only really admire the skill of Emmanuel Latte Lath again who instinctively knew where Meslier was as he rose to meet a simple ball launched from halfway and back-headed it over our stranded keeper. Once again, maybe a question mark as to why Illan was quite so far out at that particular moment. 3 – 4 and despite the Boro keeper acting as an extra striker for the last few attacks, Leeds held on in a nervy final ten minutes with, it must be said, one terrific stop by Illan down at the foot of his right post from a powerful Jonny Howson strike. There was a touch of panic in our defending at the end but we got there.

All that mattered at the end of the day was the three points that effectively says to Ipswich, go match that if you can. The big positive for me though was the way we were able to undo the Boro defence so often and the finishing of our front three. That and those little key moments of quality from Georginio. Yes, he gave the ball away too often and it was costly at times, but equally he was at the heart of successful moves that led to our goals.

Now we have to do it all again on Friday down at QPR, another place where we’ve often gone full of hope only to shoot ourselves in the foot in the opening minutes. Can a Farke inspired team avoid that and can we pile more pressure on those Tractor Boys? Let’s hope so.

        Game Statistics:


                  Middlesbrough   Leeds

  Possession         67%    33%

  Shots                  13         8

  On Target             5          5

  Corners               11         4

  Fouls                   14        11

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