Match Report: Leeds United 2-1 Middlesbrough - Pablo's panache powers Whites to crucial win
Sunday, 19th Nov 2017 21:35 by @LucasMonk_
In a fiercely contested match at Elland Road, Leeds United today manufactured a magnificent performance to record a wholly merited victory against fellow play-off aspirants Middlesbrough, as Garry Monk suffered the ignominy of defeat on his return to West Yorkshire.
Prior to today’s match, Leeds United and their dutifully loyal supporters had endured a barren sequence of results. United had meekly succumbed to defeat in seven of their previous nine matches in the Championship, and it would have been pardonable for one to postulate that the return of Garry Monk to Elland Road as manager of in-form Middlesbrough had come at a time most inopportune.
On the premise of the team’s slipshod form, many supporters began to impugn the efficacy of head coach Thomas Christiansen’s tactical methods and the will to win of his players. Levelled at Leeds were charges of mental fragility, attacking impotence and defensive laxity - charges that were emphatically dismissed by Christiansen and his charges today.
A performance of potency when in possession and assiduity when out of it was justly rewarded with a victory, as goals from Pablo Hernández and Ezgjan Alioski proved decisive for Leeds in spite of a Britt Assombalonga penalty in the 77th minute.
With German forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga sidelined with a minor ailment, Christiansen elected to afford a starting role to Kemar Roofe, who was tasked with operating as a lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Furthermore, Andy Lonergan retained his starting berth in spite of two absent-minded mistakes against Brentford in United’s last outing while Caleb Ekuban was named among the substitutes after recuperating from a foot injury.
Following the customary toss of a coin, it was the right of the visitors to begin proceedings with United attacking the South Stand.
The early exchanges were bereft of any notable attacking action, though Middlesbrough would have ardent protestations for a penalty in the eighth minute dismissed promptly by referee Keith Stroud - Britt Assombalonga had been of the opinion that Leeds’ Gaetano Berardi had illegally impeded him.
The swathes of vociferous supporters in attendance at Elland Road would be made to wait until the 20th minute for either team to muster an attempt on target. After a driven right-wing cross had zipped across the face of United’s goal, Stewart Downing chanced his arm from an appreciable distance and thus elicited an attentive save from home custodian Andy Lonergan.
A mere four minutes would elapse before the hosts, with their first effort on target, established a slender advantage. A sumptuous and inswinging left-footed delivery from the right of the penalty area by Ezgjan Alioski was deftly flicked on by Kalvin Phillips to the far post, and Pablo Hernández extended himself to stab the ball into the back of the net from close proximity to send the home supporters into exultant celebrations.
Having played an integral role in the creation of the opening goal, Alioski persisted in posing to the opposition defence many an attacking threat. With half an hour played, the fleet-footed Macedonian winger displayed commendable determination to gain a free-kick for United on the right channel. The consequent delivery by Hernández eventually saw the ball fall serendipitously to Samu Sáiz, who attempted an audacious lofted effort that arced innocuously over the crossbar.
With the half-time interlude fast approaching, Alioski once more was felled inside the Middlesbrough half. Hernández conjured another splendid delivery that was met by the head of central defender Liam Cooper, and the latter’s effort bounced marginally wide of the mark.
There were not any alterations to either lineup at half-time and so the second period was begun by Leeds, who were now attacking toward the Kop.
With a solitary minute of second-half football elapsed, industrious full-back Luke Ayling surged into the penalty area after a composed interchange of passes with Alioski. Ayling’s eventual left-footed effort was one of power and conviction, but not accuracy - the ball flew wide of Darren Randolph’s right-hand post.
Shortly thereafter, Middlesbrough would create for themselves their first conspicuous chance of the match - in the 54th minute. A Downing cross from the right fell to fledgling winger Marcus Tavernier at the back post, but Tavernier, who had scored his first professional goal for Boro against Sunderland two weeks previously, could only produce an impetuous effort that was wildly inaccurate and soared into the South Stand.
The visitors would rue Tavernier’s dissipation of that opportunity moments later. A mesmeric run on the part of Kemar Roofe saw him evade the defensive endeavours of two opposing defenders before he directed the ball into the path of Hernández, whose excellent left-footed cross was thundered home by Alioski from close range to double Leeds’ advantage.
United sought to further extend their lead just three minutes later. Sáiz received possession outside of the Middlesbrough penalty area from Ronaldo Vieira prior to creating for himself a pocket of space in which to fire an effort toward goal. The diminutive Spaniard’s low, right-footed effort, to the disbelief of himself and the Leeds supporters, hit the post.
Middlesbrough would then come excruciatingly close to halving the deficit in the 60th minute, when full-back Connor Roberts crossed for Danish attacker Martin Braithwaite. Braithwaite’s ensuing effort appeared to be blocked be a combination of a defiant Ayling and Lonergan’s right-hand post - much to the relief of United.
Leeds were then awarded a free-kick inside the opposing half. Once more, Hernández delivered the ball into the penalty area and having spurned a chance in the first-half, an unchallenged Cooper did so again.
In the 71st minute, Middlesbrough’s Assombalonga would attempt to aid his team in regaining a foothold in the match. He cut infield and, from the verge of the penalty area, unleashed a curling effort that went just wide of the post.
Notwithstanding Assombalonga’s failure to score at that juncture, Middlesbrough would soon have the ball in the back of the net in the 77th minute of the match. Referee Keith Stround discombobulated the vast majority of spectators by electing to award the visitors a penalty after Ayling had been adjudged to have upended Daniel Ayala. Subsequent replays have shown that Ayala had impeded Ayling long before the latter grasped the former’s leg. Assombalonga assumed the responsibility for the spot-kick, and assuredly converted the opportunity to offer his side a modicum of hope.
With five minutes of normal time remaining, Braithwaite would once more be denied a fourth goal of the season. After United ‘keeper Lonergan punched a cross clear, the Danish forward's ensuing effort was deflected wide by Pontus Jansson.
In austere circumstances that were unjustly foisted upon them by erroneous officiating, Leeds would hold their nerve and negotiate seven minutes of added time to secure a momentous victory that sees the club elevated to seventh position in the Championship. Audible cheers emanated from the stands upon the last blast of the referee’s whistle, as ebullient supporters rose to rightly celebrate a wonderful triumph with rapturous applause.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1) - Lonergan; Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Berardi; Vieira, Phillips; Alioski (Pennington 90+4’), Sáiz (O’Kane 88’), Hernández; Roofe (Ekuban 79’).
Unused Substitutes: Wiedwald, Anita, Sacko, Grot.
Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1) - Randolph; Roberts, Ayala, Gibson, Friend (Traore 65’); Howson, Leadbitter (Fletcher 71’); Downing, Braithwaite, Tavernier (Johnson 56’); Assombalonga.
Unused Substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Fry, Fabio, Forshaw.
Half-Time: Leeds United 1-0 Middlesbrough - Hernández 24’
Full-Time: Leeds United 2-0 Middlesbrough - Hernández 24’, Alioski 54’
Match Statistics (Leeds/Boro)
Possession: 43% / 57%
Attempts: 12 / 10
On Target: 2 / 2
Pass Success: 69% / 72%
Aerial Duels: 48% / 52%
Corners: 3 / 10
Fouls: 10 / 16
Man of the Match: Pablo Hernández (Leeds).
The 32-year-old Spaniard put Middlesbrough to the sword in consummate style by not only scoring the opening goal, but also producing a precise and measured cross to allow Ezgjan Alioski to double United’s advantage in the second period.
Booked: Ayling, Jansson, Berardi, Phillips, Hernández (Leeds). Friend, Howson, Assombalonga (Boro).
Venue: Elland Road (capacity of 37,890).
Referee: Keith Stroud.
United’s rearguard defended stoutly, and Britt Assombalonga, a forward Middlesbrough paid some £15,000,000 for in the summer transfer window, was only enabled to divest Leeds of a well-earned clean sheet due to the glaring incompetence of the utterly imbecilic Keith Stroud.
In central midfield, Ronaldo Vieira and Kalvin Phillips toiled in tandem and were able to comprehensively best their Middlesbrough counterparts Jonny Howson and Grant Leadbitter, while United’s attackers were ruthlessly clinical in front of goal and played an integral role in the team’s eventual triumph.
Above all, it was most pleasing to see Leeds hold their nerve and negotiate the remainder of the game without ceding two points after Middlesbrough were unjustly awarded their penalty in the 77th minute. In recent matches prior to today, United’s mental fragility had all too frequently seen them relinquish points.
As supporters, we can now savour this victory and look forward with optimism to Wednesday night’s excursion to Molineux as we face rampant league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Photo: Action Images
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