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Leeds United 3 v 2 Middlesbrough
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 2nd December 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Leeds hold on for hard-fought victory over Boro
Sunday, 3rd Dec 2023 10:47 by Tim Whelan

This was another match that we should have won more comfortably than we did, but the goals we scored in a pulsating first half were ultimately enough to win this encounter with Middlesbrough.

There were no changes to the starting line-up, with Spence again on the bench, but presumably not fit enough for a lively encounter with our near-local rivals. Boro’s loan man Sam Greenwood was ineligible to play against his parent club, and in a pre-match interview Daniel Farke said that he would have kept him if we played American Football rules and could bring him on only for set pieces, but sadly we don’t.

For the second time in four days, Leeds went a goal behind in the first few minutes of the game. Latte Lath collected the ball on Boro’s left and cut inside Gray before unleashing a fierce shot past Mesilier at his near post. Well struck as it was, our keeper might feel that he should have done a little bit better.

So once again we were looking to get back on terms right away before the opposition had the chance to frustrate Leeds and start to grow in confidence. It looked like the chance to do so had gone when James and Rutter both had efforts blocked, but Boro could only clear the ball as far as Byram. He was able to jink past two defenders on the left of the area to send over a deep cross to the far post, where James was there to meet it and head past Dieng to bring the scores level.

But unlike Wednesday night, Leeds wouldn’t leave it until close to half time before going in front, and we scored the third goal of the game after only seven minutes. This time the cross came from the opposite full-back, and McNair could only flick it on, while Dijksteel let his fellow Dutchman Summerville get in front of him to head home. A poor goal to concede from their point of view, but we wouldn’t care about that.

Their defensive frailties would continue to be apparent as we created a series of chances to extend our lead, but the visitors looked better going forward. While Johnny Howson was rolling back the years and playing through our midfield a little too easily, Latte Lath looked a constant threat up front. When the Ivorian was put through for a one-on-one with Meslier our keeper made a fine save, before Crooks sent the rebound over the bar.

At the other end Byram was clipped as he nipped in front of a defender to take the ball, and there were shouts for a penalty, but in all honesty it would have been a little bit soft. The ball ran through to Summerville, who went past a couple of defenders as he moved across the area, but when he did get a shot in it was deflected wide.

And Rutter had a shot well saved by Seny Dieng, but the Frenchman would make a more telling contribution in the 38th. minute. Boro’s Matt Clarke had only just come on for the injured McNair and hadn’t had time to pick up the pace of the game, making a clumsy challenge on the edge of the box as Rutter went round him.

Rutter was still able to take a tame shot despite being on the floor, but the referee had already decided to point to the spot. There was a bit of anxiety as we had missed our last penalty, but this time Piroe was on the field to take it. And he confidently stepped up to smash the ball into the corner of the net, too powerful for Dieng to reach even though the keeper went the right way.

We thought that had given us a comfortable lead, but Boro would get one back on the stroke of half time. A corner flicked the top of Byram’s head, and behind him Latte Lath was able to send a looping header into the far corner of the net, where Meslier couldn’t possibly get to it. Why do we keep making things so hard for ourselves?

In the second half both sides got a little more organised defensively, so the chances didn’t keep coming at quite the same rate, but early in the half we did create an outstanding opportunity to seal the win. Ampadu’s through ball found Rutter in space and onside, and the Frenchman turned but the keeper turned his shot round the post. Which the ref completely missed and gave a goal kick instead of a corner.

Shortly afterwards the visitors were down to ten men, with the dismissal of their right back Dijksteel. His first yellow card had been a little bit unlucky, as it looked like an accidental clash of legs as he tried to move inside to block the danger while Summerville raced down the wing in front of him. But his second was a daft challenge for a booked man, a late lunge on James after the ball had gone.

We might have thought that had sealed the game, but Boro were still showing signs of life, and they came very close to snatching a point near the end. Silvera found space on the right-hand side of the box and his shot deflected off Struijk onto the post, then Rodon had to desperately put his body on the line to block Rogers’ shot from the rebound.

Farke decided we needed some fresh legs for the closing stages, so Rutter and James made way for Gnonto and Bamford. The latter sporting his second new hairdo of the season, his sensible short back and sides are now a bleached blond look that seems a little ambitious for a man who has strayed the wrong side of 30.

But his new look might have dazzled the smoggies’ defence, as none of them followed his run in front of the near post at a corner. His neat flick was on target but straight at Dieng, and when the rebound came straight to Piroe, the Dutchman had no time to react. All he had to do was lift the ball slightly, but he sent his shot straight at the keeper as he lay helpless on the ground.

Five extra minutes were announced, but more had to be added for the subs we then made, which is always overlooked when the crowd starts whistling for the final whistle. Gruev and Anthony come on for Piroe and Anthony, which successfully shored things up as we played out the remaining time, to claim our seventh successive win at fortress Elland Road.

It’s pretty much as we were at the top of the table, with all the other top sides also winning, with the exception of West Brom’s defeat by Leicester. Which wasn’t a bad result for us if we’re happy to finish second and think Ipswich are the more likely of the top two to fall away, so we don’t mind Leicester beating the teams just below us in the table.

We just have to keep going and winning our games, and hope that at some point our rivals drop enough points to let us in.


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