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Middlesbrough 0 v 1 Leeds United
SkyBet Championship
Wednesday, 26th February 2020 Kick-off 19:45
Leeds bring three vital points back from the Riverside
Thursday, 27th Feb 2020 21:30 by Tim Whelan

It was yet another game when we had the bulk of possession but failed to kill off the opposition, but in the end we managed to hold onto our slender lead to bring a vital three points home from Middlesbrough.

This was always going to be a keenly contested game between local-ish rivals, and a times it got a little bit feisty, even though there were a couple of familiar faces in the ranks of the opposition. Boro fielded Johnny Howson and Adam Clayton, with the latter being reminded that he was “too **** to play for Leeds as he received a yellow card late in the game.

And in charge of the Boro was Johnathan Woodgate, with his home town club in need of the points as much as we were, as they sat uncomfortably just above the relegation places. When I last looked at a Boro forum to see what their fans thought of their rookie manager they seemed distinctly unimpressed, with many going as far as to say he looks completely out of his depth.

With Boro having such a torrid time it perhaps was no surprise that there were significant gaps in the crowd in the home stands, even though they’d given us a far more generous ticket allocation than usual, so we could help them to make up the numbers. And for those who were only there to watch the Leeds, the one change to our starting line-up saw Berardi coming in for the injured Phillips.

It took a while for any sort of pattern to emerge in the game, but Leeds produced the first decent chance after a quarter of an hour. An excellent ball into the box found Bamford in acres of space while the Boro defence stood and appealed for an offside flag that never came. If Bamford had put his header anywhere other than straight at the goalkeeper we would have gone one up, but he didn’t.

But to be fair to our much-maligned striker, his next effort was much better, but he put his shot wide from a difficult angle. Boro’s finishing was no better, and they wasted one promising break when the ball out to Tavernier was overhit, giving the Leeds defence time to regroup once he’d got to the ball, and his eventual finish was some way beyond the far post.

As the half went on we seemed to be taking control, with our moves beginning to carry more of a threat. Costa blazed over from close range, though he did have to lift the ball a bit, with diving in front of him, but in any case he was offside. We continued to press, with the Pears making smart saves from Harrison and Bamford, before we finally got the breakthrough in first half injury time.

Bamford was played through on the edge of the box, but unselfishly chose to square the ball to Hernandez. There were howls of frustration as the Spanish wizzard’s shot came back off the post, but the move was still alive. When the ball was played back into the box Hernandez was able to slip the ball to Klich, and although his strike hit the other post, this time it rebounded into the net.

We were good value for our lead, but the Boro were to come out for the second half looking determined to get back into the game. A shot from Saville (no, not that one) from 30 yards could have added to Casilla’s collection of bloopers as he let it slip from his grasp. But thankfully the ball went sideways so he was able to grab it at the second attempt, and he could claim that the deflection off Ayling had done him no favours.

At the other end Pears had a couple more excellent saves to make, from Dallas after a one-two with Klich, and from a fierce shot from Hernadez. Then Middlesbrough produced their best chance of the game, from a through ball that found Tavernier in a good position. He opted to switch to his left rather than hitting it first time with his right, but with Casilla well beaten the ball clipped the top of the bar on it’s way over.

We really should have doubled the lead shortly after the hour, when a passing move down the right saw Ayling get to the byline and pull the ball back to Bamford, right in front of goal. But the ball bounced off Bamford and up into the grateful arms of Pears. It looked an appalling miss, but on the TV replay you can see that a defender got a vital touch to knock it into Bamford, so he didn’t get the time to get the contact he would have wished.

So once again we had failed to make a game safe, and we had to suffer the inevitable tension of the closing stages, as Boro pressed hard for a point. Our only substitution of the game saw Hernandez replaced by Shackleton, perhaps because the old man had started to run out of puff (with another game less than three days later), and we needed some youthful vigour to see the game out.

The closest the home side came in the last 10 minutes was a free kick that came back to Tavernier, but despite another deflection Casilla was well behind it this time. Five minutes of injury time were announced, but that wasn’t long enough for Boro, and we held on for the win with no further alarm.

Woodgate said after the game that his players had given him everything, and had shown a great improvement on recent weeks. Which doesn’t say a lot for their other performances, as although they put a lot of effort into the game there was a distinct lack of quality in their side. He also claimed they should have had a penalty for a handball by Ayling, which would have been very harsh as the ball was hammered right at him.

Some would say we could have had a couple of spot kicks ourselves when Harrison and Costa went to ground, though we didn’t moan about those. We certainly needed to hold on for the win, with WBA, Fulham and Forest also picking up maximum points in the midweek games, though at least the gap above third place remains at five points.

We have to it all again in a similar sort of game at Hull on Saturday, but with a third consecutive win under our belts, we can start to believe that we’ve got through the bad patch and this time we’re going to be all right during the run-in.

Reuters Media Express

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