Middlesbrough 3, Leeds United 0
Uwe Rösler‘s pre-season promise of “heavy metal football” – high-energy, high-tempo, high-pressing stuff, as we were assured – has started to take on a rather hollow ring. The only resemblance between the Leeds United showing at Middlesbrough‘s Riverside Stadium, and any type of rock-star behaviour, was a marked tendency to auto-destruction.
It would be difficult indeed to imagine Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious or even Michael Hutchence doing a more comprehensive job of self-immolation than that perpetrated by the Whites today. United were slain almost entirely by their own hand, with Middlesbrough in the incidental role of witness bystanders who then promptly picked the corpse’s pockets and made off into the night.
Middlesbrough’s callous opportunism in exploiting Leeds’ suicidal defending was compounded by their occasionally agricultural approach to winning possession, showing no scruples when it came to scything down any white shirt near the ball. The true villain of the piece though, from United’s point of view, was the referee. Lancastrian Neil Swarbrick could and probably should have dismissed Boro’s Christian Stuani for the second or third of his trio of crude challenges on United’s Charlie Taylor. The first had earned a yellow card – but it was really no worse than either of the others.
These things happen, as they say – but Swarbrick’s decision to disallow Mirco Antenucci‘s 55th minute strike, for the most marginal of offside calls, was at least as inflammatory for suffering United fans. Was Antenucci offside? His beard might just have been, by a gnat’s hair, if the ball got a Leeds touch on the way through. There was plenty of room for doubt though, and the laws say attackers should get the benefit of any such doubt. Not here, though, not today. Not for Leeds United. ‘Twas ever thus.
This was a pity for the sake of the game, if nothing else. A goal then and Leeds would have been one behind, with over half an hour to go – and well on top in general play. All this after inflicting on themselves two mortal wounds early in the first half. Giuseppe Bellusci was the guilty party on each occasion, first waving his head ineffectually at a passing cross, for David Nugent to gather in and score – and then diving brilliantly to beat his own keeper with an unstoppable near-post header. At that point, the Leeds defender was nailed on for the Boro Man of the Match award.
After the ref’s questionable decision to disallow Antenucci’s second half strike, Leeds mustered only one more threat of note, Antenucci again being denied when he headed straight at the Boro keeper from Jordan Botaka‘s quality right-wing cross. After that, a discouraged United side slowly ran out of steam, and we were just waiting for the fat lady to sing and end this Wagnerian tragedy.
In true operatic style, Leeds had taken a long time to die and were awfully messy about it. With Boro’s creative vacuum filled by Uniteds’ defensive calamities, which provided all the victors’ goals, there had always seemed a chance that the Whites might claw their way back, given a little inspiration of their own. The coup de grâce, though, was yet another self-inflicted injury when it arrived on 81 minutes. Sol Bamba uncharacteristically slipped up in his own area, to present the third goal on a plate for a grateful Diego Fabbrini – and that was enough to finish off Yorkshire’s finest.
It’s not easy to find positives to take from a day when nothing went right. Such a very, very bad day at the office would normally see the place burnt out with the loss of all staff and possibly the entire building. Leeds don’t do bad days by halves. And yet some of the Whites’ play showed promise, with flashes of brilliance from Taylor, Lewis Cook and Botaka in particular. It was difficult to see beforehand the reason for Liam Cooper‘s replacement by Bellusci, and that decision seemed dafter the longer the game went on. But Leeds will play worse than this overall (though not in defence) and win. Some belief, confidence and the sorting out of the chaos in front of the hapless Silvestri is what we urgently need now.
With little home comfort so far this season, Leeds now face two tests at Elland Road in Birmingham City and early leaders Brighton, either side of another international break. After those two encounters, with not far off a quarter of the Championship marathon completed, we should have a reasonably good picture of exactly where we are and what this season might hold. Certainly Rösler should by then have a better idea of exactly what kind of music his mixed band of players are able to make.
I would be very interested to hear Roslers reason for picking Bellusci ahead of Cooper, I have said before that Bellusci is a complete liability.
self pitying piffle,’t was ever thus’?
I note you forgot to mention Adomah’s great overhead kick that was disallowed at Elland Rd without a single Leeds player appealing for it. the Defences were the difference, ours was strong, yours weak , other wise it was an even game
You’d understand if you knew our history. You’ve no history and therefore no comprehension of what it means.
An even game where the away side had double your chances (statistical fact) and more possession (think your being a tad bias don’t you ?)
But yes it was Leeds defence that LOST the game. Your defence was a lot better
As a Leeds fan I cannot disagree with anything you have said (genuinely!), we mugged 6 points of you last year & today we ran out of luck
Well I suppose if your going to cock it up , get it all done in one game and move on!
Think maybe sol’s suggestion to “make sure you put your head through it” was taken literally.
1 Bellusci is not even a league one player. Cooper was fit and should have been played or he would not have been on the bench
2 Antennuci is NOT a sole striker. He cannot handle long balls and needs to play off another striker. Lee Erwin should have played.
3 The ref was diabolical. The linesman a coward for not standing his ground.That goal would have made a difference. Swarbrick should have seen red
4 Botaka did well. He now knows what it’s like to play English League football. He will only get better.
5 Cellino needs to get his wallet out because this squad is not strong enough or good enough. As for Rosler, he can only pick from what he has, and what he has is just not enough.
Strangely, I feel quite encouraged by today’s performance. Big improvement on last week at MK. We were better than them in every department.
Very strange decision to replace Cooper, who has been improving steadily.
Glad you noticed Boro’s continuous stream of nasty challenges. For the money they’ve spent they created almost nothing, and their reputation as a ‘footballing’ side is a myth.
Out Bellusci on loan ASAP and bring in a defensive coach to support Rossler and sort things out.
Or to put it simply,lack of communication and prattling about in your own half when two nil down with ten minutes to go.
Rob, thanks. This is another good article and a balanced account of today’s game. The Leeds performance had the hallmark of an unsettled team with problems in the dressing room – thank you Snr Chellino.
Of greater concern is Cellino’s game plan. After taking over the club last year and promising its return to the EPL in two years (and buying back its assets etc) his story changed. Another two years, 2017, is now the target for our return to the top flight.
When Bates put Leeds into administration in 2007, then bought it back in highly suspicious circumstances, he undertook to repay creditors if the club returned to the Prem within 10 years – I.e. bsfore 2017.
Cellino, having taken a close look at Bates’ Leeds, will now be aware of this pitfall.
In short, don’t expect Leeds to go up this year!
Can’t help but agree with your reasoning and conclusion 😦
Last year we sneaked a goal in the opening minutes and somehow survived a battering from Boro. Like Yorxman says, we ran out of luck today especially regards decisions from match officials.
Rob, what’s your take on the relentless and baffling inclusion of Bellusci, Wootton and Doukara in matchday squads? Do you think it’s at the insistence of Massimo, or does Uwe see things the rest of us don’t?
Might be worth putting that question to the readership, Mr. Pot. I’m on it 👍
Did the through ball not take deflection of a boro player on the way through to antenucci , I have to say I have not seen the replay as yet plus I had downed a few cold ones by this time . but if I am correct the defender played the attacker on side any way even if he was marginally off side
Over all we played some nice stuff and the team will bind together as the season progresses
Great support from the fans again I could here then all the way down here in Australia MOT
i have just seen the disallowed goal and it did come of the Boro defender before it ran through to Antenucci so he was played on side by the Boro player it should have been a goal