Middlesbrough 3 Leeds United 0
On Thursday night, I, like many hundreds of Leeds fans, was seriously considering not travelling to Teesside for the game at Boro due to the weather and traffic chaos gripping the country. But the Boro ground staff had done a miraculous job of getting the game on and by Friday morning the roads were pretty quiet and, as long as you steered well clear of the M62, most routes to Boro were fairly clear. It was still a brave call by over 2,500 Leeds fans though to make that journey and I’m sure, like me, all Leeds fans were convinced that our team would repay us for our determination with a brave and positive display at the Riverside buoyed by a little run of three games unbeaten against teams I consider far better than this Boro side…
Oh how wrong could we all be? Almost from the start it looked like the Leeds players just didn’t fancy this game, it also looked very much like they’d mentally switched off, perhaps believing the game would never take place. In contrast, Boro came out and looked the ultimate professional outfit, no doubt whipped up by the experienced Tony Pulis who may well have had an inkling that Leeds would struggle to get themselves up for this contest. Boro are not anywhere near the best side in the Championship but they were thoroughly professional in the way they approached the game; closing down Leeds like men possessed and then, with the ball, moving it expertly around the pitch with Leeds largely chasing shadows. Once again Leeds looked a very poor outfit – poor at the back, weak in midfield and lacking in ideas and execution up front. We were always second to the ball and if there was ever a choice of pass, we’d always pick the wrong one. It is hard to know where Heckingbottom goes from here although it may just make him experiment by giving some of the youngsters a go now that the play-offs truly is a step too far.
All three Boro goals were preventable and I can’t think of many sides that would have presented Patrick Bamford with an easier first hat-trick of his career. He will be off to the newsagent this week to buy a bag full of lottery tickets as he will well know just how lucky he was to face Leeds in this sort of form. The first came from a simple right wing cross with Leeds standing way off Stewart Downing allowing him all the time in the world to get it on his strong left foot to send in a cross. Somehow Coops missed it, almost ducking out of the way, and Bamford tucked it inside the near post; appalling defensive work from Leeds. The second, just five minutes later, was an example of how not to allow a talented player to run with the ball as Traore seemed to carry it from somewhere near Middlesbrough town centre and then through the middle of the Leeds defence; no one thought to bring him down if they couldn’t steal the ball away from him. On and on Traore went and eventually it was a simple pass to Bamford in the inside left channel. Bamford is not the most gifted striker in the Championship and his shot was straight at Wiedwald but we all know if you hit enough balls at Felix sooner or later he’ll let you down; he let us down. To be fair the third Boro goal should really not have stood as Bamford was well offside when Traore’s shot cannoned off Jansson’s leg and fell at his feet. It was not as if everyone wasn’t aware of the danger Traore possesses though, once again allowing him too much time on the ball unchallenged.
Heckingbottom tried to change the effectiveness of the Leeds midfield by bringing on Vieira and Forshaw (why didn’t he start?) for Phillips and Alioski but truth be told it made no difference. Later Caleb Ekuban replaced O’Kane but despite Caleb recording our first and only shot on target in the 86th minute, the game was long gone by then.
The anger shown to the players by a section of Leeds fans at the front of the stand was way beyond what is acceptable under any circumstances though and it was a very miserable end to a very miserable performance. Quite where Heckingbottom will turn now is hard to know. I would single out Gaetano Berardi as the only player who was actually doing his job throughout this game – there is a case for saying none of the others should have been paid for that display! Somehow we need to come up with a performance very different on Wednesday night when the Champions elect, Wolves come to play or that could be very embarrassing again. Expect Forshaw to start, Pablo too if he’s fit and don’t bank on Felix being there between the sticks.
Middlesbrough Leeds Utd
Possession 47% 53%
Shots 20 11
On Target 6 1
Corners 13 5
Fouls 10 10