A captain’s contribution saw Leeds United recover from the disappointment of conceding an equaliser to ten-man Middlesbrough to emerge winners in a tense but entertaining clash before over 30,000 at Elland Road, Jason Pearce thumping home a great header at the Gelderd End after 57 minutes. This third consecutive league victory – a feat not achieved in over a year – also sees United lodged just inside the playoff zone, a position they will be hoping to maintain or improve on over the remaining thirty games of the season.
Leeds had taken the lead after 35 minutes of the first half with a close-range header from in-form Ross McCormack, a summer transfer target for Boro. It was a deserved lead, and it might have been more before half time. A long ball deceived the Middlesbrough defence and, with McCormack and Blackstock looking to have the time to decide which of them was to score the second, Boro keeper Jason Steele raced outside his area to demolish Dexter, concede a free-kick – and end his own involvement in the game. The red card was indisputable, and the ten men of Middlesbrough would, it seemed, face a long and difficult second half trying to keep the score down.
In the event, Middlesbrough initially put up a rather better show with ten men than they had with a full complement, winning more possession in Leeds territory and posing a much greater threat. The danger signals were obvious, and it was unwelcome but no real surprise when the visitors leveled after 52 minutes, Carayol scoring after good work from Adomah. It’s a test of a home team’s mettle to be pegged back against a team with “only ten men” as the Boro fans could suddenly be heard singing. Heads can go down, frustration can set in. But Leeds responded well, with Austin charging forward and showing good determination against a team who, having got back onto equal terms, clearly fancied packing the area behind the ball and, even though a man short, making life difficult for the Whites.
Happily, it didn’t take long for United to reassert themselves, with Pearce’s header a cue for Elland Road to erupt with mingled joy and relief. Even then, it wasn’t easy for the home side, Boro attacking and battling for possession all over the park and, while they created little of note, the pressure was on and Leeds could never relax. It could have been a different story – a more comfortable story – if United had taken a couple more of the quite presentable chances they had created – but in the end the odd goal in three was sufficient to guarantee Leeds the three point haul – and that is very much what it is all about, especially given some of the cheap points thrown away earlier in the season.
Leeds now find themselves inside the playoff zone instead of looking enviously upwards. It should be all about consolidation from here; knowing Leeds though, nothing is ever simple. But Leeds United is a much happier place now than it was quite a short time ago, and the supporters have shown that they will respond to effort and commitment. 30,000 plus today tells its own story, and the atmosphere generated by the greater numbers is a genuine influence in a tight and competitive game. If Leeds maintain their challenge, these fans will continue to get behind them with powerful support that unnerves opponents and inspires those in a white shirt. On the field, off the field and between the two areas it is, after all, a matter of teamwork and pulling together.