Match Preview: Leeds United v Middlesbrough - Beleaguered Christiansen must beat Monk's Boro
Sunday, 19th Nov 2017 09:47 by @LucasMonk_
In their first fixture since the conclusion of the international break, Leeds United today play host to Middlesbrough as an embattled Thomas Christiansen seeks to avert a fifth consecutive defeat in all competitions.
The return of former Leeds United head coach Garry Monk to Elland Road has come, ostensibly, at a most inopportune moment. Since having inflicted upon them a first defeat of the season by Millwall in September, a deluge of calamities have befallen United on the field of play. Deeply dispiriting home defeats to Reading, Sheffield United and Derby County have served to attenuate the confidence of some supporters in head coach Thomas Christiansen, while Middlesbrough have won each of their last three matches in the Championship. Monk’s decision to depart Elland Road for the Riverside Stadium prior to the season’s beginning is presently being further vindicated with each passing week.
In spite of the swelling exasperation of many Leeds supporters owing to recent results - and, for that matter, performances - managing director Angus Kinnear intimated his continued support for a besieged Christiansen in an interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post this week.
“I don’t think it’s fair to question him,” said Kinnear to the reputable journalist Phil Hay. “Most fair-minded supporters would look at a manager coming into a completely new league, a very challenging league, and working with a new squad with new players and say that to be three points off the play-offs now is not far off what you’d expect a new manager to do.”
It is in order to make known that Kinnear’s sentiments were certainly not shared by all associated with United. One supporter, through the medium of Twitter, opined: “It’s like Kinnear is trying to wind folk up [by] saying that.”
To placate the appreciable swathes of supporters who have made clear their ire at their team’s performances of late, Leeds face a difficult, though not insurmountable, task this afternoon. This is a fact acknowledged by the club themselves; the seats within Elland Road’s East Stand have been redecorated so as to display a single word: together. To secure a momentous victory and bring to an end a wretched run of results, there is a nigh universal belief that United will require febrile backing from the steadfastly faithful hordes in the stands.
In marked contrast, opponents Middlesbrough approach this match in pursuit of a fourth successive triumph in league competition and are almost ubiquitously expected to record victory. Though unremarkable in style, the Boro have, under Monk’s tutelage, made manifest in recent weeks their aptitude in emerging from close encounters with three points. A home meeting with local rivals Sunderland prior to the international interlude yielded a marginal victory and was only decided by a first professional goal from fledgling youngster Marcus Tavernier. Middlesbrough’s renaissance of late has been significantly contributed to by a coherent defence that has ceded only 13 goals in the Championship this season - fewer than all their divisional rivals bar Cardiff City - and one must ponder as to how Leeds intend to perforate such an organised rearguard.
Though it would not permit them to supersede Middlesbrough - who occupy sixth position - a seemingly improbable victory would elevate United to seventh place in the Championship and would see them on the periphery of the play-offs.
Ghanaian-born forward Caleb Ekuban has, at long last, recuperated from a broken foot sustained during a 2-0 defeat of Sunderland in August and is likely to be named among the substitutes this afternoon.
Doubt has been cast on the fitness of left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, who is presently on loan at Elland Road until the end of the season from Manchester United. Borthwick-Jackson has not featured for Leeds since suffering a recent injury away to Leicester City in the Carabao Cup.
Finally, Andy Lonergan may be displaced by Felix Wiedwald between the sticks after the former endured a torrid match away to Brentford in which he made two slipshod mistakes.
There are no new injury concerns to be considered by Garry Monk when he comes to name his starting lineup for today’s fixture.
Beninese target-man Rudy Gestede remains afflicted by injury and will thus be unavailable, while full-back Cyrus Christie is suspended after having a fifth yellow card of the season issued to him during Boro’s 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Though Monk will have to call upon a replacement to compensate for the absence of the influential Christie, further changes to his team are not envisaged. Britt Assombalonga will most certainly spearhead the Middlesbrough vanguard, with Marcus Tavenier, Martin Braithwaite and Stewart Downing likely to be responsible for providing ample ammunition for him in Monk’s preferential 4-2-3-1 formation.
Venue: Elland Road (capacity of 37,890).
Coverage: The match, to the doubtless inconvenience of many supporters, is to be broadcast by Sky Sports, with kick-off scheduled for 1:15pm. Those who cannot attend the match will, as ever, have recourse to live match commentary on the part of BBC Radio Leeds.
Referee: Keith Stroud will officiate the match; his appointment was commended by Jeff Winter, a Middlesbrough supporter and former Premier League referee, in an article for Gazette Live. Stroud last refereed a Leeds match in April this year, as United were defeated 1-0 by Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
The match will see Garry Monk return to Elland Road for the first time since his acrimonious departure from Leeds United. Under his leadership in the 2016-17 campaign, Leeds won 14 of their home matches - twice the number of home fixtures they had won in the 2015-16 season.
Only Birmingham City (22) have had fewer shots on target than Leeds (28) in league matches at home this season.
Five of the last eight meetings between Leeds and Middlesbrough have been decided by a margin of one goal - the last such meeting occurred in February 2015, when United were 1-0 victors at the Riverside Stadium owing to a goal from Alex Mowatt.
Leeds United: Pierre-Michel Lasogga
A German striker of 25 years, Pierre-Michel Lasogga is frequently excoriated by supporters for his supposed indolence when sporting the colours of Leeds United but is also one of the club’s most prolific goalscorers, having scored five goals in ten appearances for United this season. Lasogga is presently on loan from Hamburger SV of the German Bundesliga, and his permanent employers are understood to be intently monitoring his performances. Though the player has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, he has retained his devastating efficiency in converting goalscoring opportunities and had been on the threshold of an international call-up for Joachim Löw’s Germany only three years ago.
Middlesbrough: Jonny Howson
It could plausibly be argued that Jonny Howson is one of the most decorated professionals to have been produced by the fabled Leeds United academy since the turn of the century. Since having his first professional appearance afforded to him in 2006 by the then Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell, the midfielder has made over 350 domestic appearances in English football and has competed in the Premier League. Now 29, Howson acceded to a contract - the length of which was not disclosed - with recently relegated Middlesbrough in the summer transfer window, with Norwich City accepting an unknown sum for the player. Thus far this season, Howson has made 12 league starts for Middlesbrough and is viewed as an integral component of Garry Monk’s side who can provide invaluable goals from midfield in addition to making a significant defensive contribution.
I opine that Thomas Christiansen presently finds himself in an unenviable and profoundly invidious predicament. Much of the ebullience induced in supporters by Leeds’ sprightly start to the season has been eroded by a sequence of barren results that has seen the 44-year-old’s charges lose seven of their last nine Championship fixtures. Confidence in Christiansen has consequently become depleted, and burgeoning speculation concerning his future at Elland Road prompted managing director Angus Kinnear to, in interviews with both the Yorkshire Evening Post and BBC Radio Leeds, apprise supporters of the board’s continued support for the beleaguered head coach.
In his ardent defence of Christiansen in the media, Kinnear did not deign to acknowledge, explicitly, the deeply dispiriting results recorded by United in recent weeks and months - and I must impugn the remarks that he made this week.
It is the prerogative of the perpetually faithful supporters of any football club to offer just and reasoned criticism of a head coach, or manager, when they have seen their side succumb, in a sickeningly supine manner, to seven defeats in nine league matches. For an egregious run of unsightly and unsatisfactory performances, Christiansen must take responsibility - as must his players, who conspicuously are not giving their utmost to attenuate vituperative appraisals of their embattled head coach’s management.
Let it not be forgotten, however, that it is within the purview of a head coach to motivate his players and to inculcate in them an imperishable thirst for success. If today he once again performs inadequately in the aspects of tactical prudence, man-management and motivation, then I shall be bereft of belief in his abilities. If Leeds do not wish to win this match at least as much as their opponents will, then something is gravely wrong, is it not?
I would nonetheless implore fellow supporters attending the game to lend Christiansen and his players vociferous support - as they will certainly require it. In turn, this Leeds team must produce for the supporters a reason for cheer; it must attack ruthlessly, defend stoutly and perform assiduously to win the match and it is my fervent view that anything less will be deemed unacceptable by the supporters.
A defeat at the hands of Garry Monk, who of course departed in such acrimonious circumstances in May, shall certainly not be tolerated by the vast majority of supporters, If Christiansen is to see this crisis abate, and a crisis it undoubtedly is, he must adapt his tactics accordingly.
Prediction: Leeds United 1-3 Middlesbrough
United’s ghastly form of late owes much to a deep-seated mental fragility on the part of the players, who appear to crumble on almost every occasion they concede a goal. Should Middlesbrough establish an early advantage, I feel their victory will be inevitable.
Photo: Action Images
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