As if tonight’s top of the table Championship summit clash between Leeds United and Middlesbrough wasn’t sufficiently loaded with potential flashpoints, one above all others had the potential to affect both the result and the disciplinary responsibilities of the match officials at Elland Road.
With a full house expected and the electronic eyes of the Sky TV cameras ever on the lookout for controversy as well as action, the atmosphere will be edgy and intense right from the start. Both clubs have playing staff previously on the books of their opponents, and there is a long-standing rivalry between the Kings of Yorkshire and the club best known for being Yorkshire rejects.
One potential source of strife and controversy stands out above most others though, with the likely presence in the Boro side of Daniel Ayala, a man with recent form in this fixture. Last season, with Leeds two goals to the good, Mr. Ayala blatantly wrestled Luke Ayling to the floor in the United box, an action somehow missed by match officials. Understandably outraged, Ayling sprang up to remonstrate, and in the subsequent kerfuffle, Ayala, with a look of saucer-eyed innocence on his face, contrived to have his team awarded an unlikely penalty.
Not all match officials, of course, are as visually challenged as the assistant referee on that occasion appeared to be. We must give him the benefit of the doubt, after all, and assume that it was his eyesight to blame, and not the presence of the Middlesbrough away support just behind him. But Ayala’s initial assault on Ayling was crude and obvious, and it’s reasonable to say that the incident was not one in which justice was served. Fortunately, Leeds hung on deservedly to win the game 2-1.
Mr. Ayala is still up to his nasty little tricks though, and still managing somehow to be blatant about it, and yet escape the notice of the men with the whistle and the flags. The recent Boro v West Brom game was a case in point, with Ayala clearly offending and completely getting away with it. How he does this is a mystery; we can only hope that forewarned is forearmed, and that – if Ayala does play this evening – the nastier parts of his game are spotted by the officials.
Here’s hoping for a good game and a fair outcome. MOT.