Tag Archives: Middlesbrough FC

This is Not the Time to Push That Leeds United Panic Button – by Rob Atkinson

Divine duo

Christiansen and Radrizzani of Leeds United

A little sober analysis of last night’s defeat at the hands of a rampant pack of Wolves will reveal that, after a bad start where we got properly mauled, things could have turned out oh so differently. The fact is that, in the wake of Gjanni Alioski‘s excellent finish to pull us back into the game at 2-1 down, Leeds United were on the up and up, exerting considerable pressure on a home team that were doing some post-interval creaking after a dominant first half. A second yellow meaning a red for Ronaldo Vieira changed all that, and Wolves were able to reassert their authority with two more goals, leaving the scoreline looking rather lop-sided. But the positives were there for United against an expensively assembled side that looks certain to dominate the division this campaign.

Some Leeds United fans, so overjoyed at sending Middlesbrough coach Garry Monk back up the A1 with nowt, have then failed to see beyond that 1-4 scoreline, leading to renewed calls for the revolving door on the Elland Road manager’s office to be greased up ready for an impending departure. Whites boss Thomas Christiansen will not be unaware of the calls in certain quarters for his replacement, but he has troubles of his own to contend with – a tendency to concede ridiculously harsh penalty kicks, and doubts over the future of a certain Herr Lasogga among them. Yet Christiansen’s poise and dignity are still the hallmarks of his brief stewardship at Elland Road; he remains defiant and determined. The facts back up the theory that he’s not had the best of luck with various factors beyond his control, and – given the comical frequency of managerial turnover during the previous regime – surely it is time for the club to stick to its guns and give its man the opportunity and resources to do the job for which he was hired.

A visit to arch-nemesis Barnsley on Saturday is hardly the kind of trip Christiansen would choose as he looks to bounce back from the Molineux mangling; the Tykes have in common with so many other Championship clubs an almighty chip on the shoulder where Leeds are concerned, and this tends to inspire them to hit heights they find unattainable on less Cup Final-ish occasions. So we can expect a fired-up opposition to be waiting for us at Oakwell, but that’s the name of the game for a club like Leeds, and it’s high time we learned to deal with it. Again, Christiansen will be aware of this syndrome, having fallen foul of it at Millwall not so long back.

For many, that was where the rot set in, though worrying signs had been visible against Birmingham City just four days earlier, despite a 2-0 success against the Blues. There are many who feel that, despite his respectable goal return, it’s been the introduction of Lasogga to the team and his presence around the squad that has made the difference between the early season Leeds that was carrying all before it, and the misfiring machine we’ve been watching more lately. There does seem to be some issue, and a few conflicting rumours, where Lasogga is concerned, and this is just one of the factors on Christiansen’s worry list right now. But the priority should be to give him every opportunity to get that list sorted.

Happily, owner Andrea Radrizzani currently seems inclined to take the path of least resistance, keeping faith in his man and, although his motives might be open to question, that has to be A Good Thing for the time being at least. Whether Radrizzani is motivated by a deep personal conviction that he has the right man, or whether he is trying to establish his Leeds United ownership credentials by being as obviously as possible Not Cellino, remains a moot point. Whatever the reason, Christiansen deserves the chance to turn the currently less than ideal situation around. The performance against Middlesbrough showed that his methods have some merit, and it may well be that another endorsement of his ability and leadership was on its way against Wolves – until Vieira’s dismissal signalled the end of United’s chances.

The buzz phrase at Leeds United, for the time being at least, must be “Keep the Faith”. Christiansen has much in place within his squad that has been both pleasing to the eye and effective at times this season. The aim must be to regain a position where the whole of the team performance is greater than the sum of its parts; lately that equation has been the wrong way around on too many occasions, but in the last two matches there have been definite signs of a return to form.

Keep Fighting, as they used to say in the old days. And keep behind the team. Now is not the time to push that panic button.

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Leeds United Legend Gordon Strachan in Elland Road Return – by Rob Atkinson

StrachanLeicester

Wee Gordon’s iconic strike against Leicester City in 1990

The word “legend” is bandied about all too freely in matters showbiz and sporting, but there are a handful of performers in both spheres who truly merit the accolade. One such, in the context of Leeds United Football Club at least, is current Scotland manager and former United captain and hero Gordon Strachan.

It’s twenty-five years now since the red-headed Scottish dynamo lifted the last old-style Football League Championship for the Elland Road outfit, completing a miraculous revival in the space of four years from the bottom of the old Division Two to the very pinnacle of the game. Such on-field leadership and achievement had not been seen in Leeds since the time of that other red-headed firebrand from north of the border, Billy Bremner. It is a massive tribute to Strachan that his name can justifiably be mentioned in the same breath as that of the late, great King Billy. In a world of so many sham legends, both stand proud as the genuine article.

To help mark the silver jubilee of that memorable last Championship, Strachan is due to return to Elland Road on Friday 4th of November for an evening of reminiscence at a dinner event organised by Events in the City. It’s fair to say that the Scot will be revisiting the scene of his greatest triumph, although Strachan’s own take on that might surprise a few people. As far as Gordon is concerned, the greatest achievement of his time at Elland Road was not that “Last Champions” success, but rather the Second Division Championship of two seasons earlier.

When Strachan was signed for Leeds by Howard Wilkinson in 1988, his brief was to be the on-field inspiration behind United’s longed-for return to the top flight. It was the fulfillment of that ambition, so keenly felt in the club itself and more widely in the city of Leeds and beyond, that really fired the former Manchester United man with pride. The fact that he went on to deny his ex-manager at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson, a first English Title in 1992 ranks modestly second, for Strachan if not for the massed Leeds fans, to that initial achievement. But it must surely have added a piquant tang to the flavour of success that he savoured throughout his Leeds career.

Anybody who followed Gordon Strachan’s career will be aware of this diminutive man’s towering presence on the football field. Feisty, committed and skillful, he embodied all of the qualities that had been lacking in the Leeds midfield since the departure of Bremner over a decade before. The similarities between the two are obvious; but, if anything, Strachan was perhaps slightly more restrained on the field and somewhat more waspish off it. His performances in post-match interviews as a manager have become the stuff of legends in themselves, much admired and retold. After one defeat during his spell as Southampton manager, Strachan was collared in the players’ tunnel and asked by a reporter in what areas his team had been inferior. “Mainly that big green one out there,” was the laconic response. Gordon Strachan was still providing value and entertainment long after his playing career was done, and he continues to do as much to this day.

So it should be a memorable evening at Elland Road on November the 4th. Strachan will be assured of a warm reception in a place where he is rightly revered and, if he operates according to form, he should be well worth listening to. As the event takes place just a week before his Scotland team are due to take on the “Auld Enemy” England, in a World Cup Qualifier, there is also the prospect of some heartfelt cross-border banter to enhance and add an edge to the entertainment.

Whatever the outcome of the clash between the two oldest footballing rival nations, it’s guaranteed that Gordon Strachan will always be welcomed anywhere in England, where he gave sterling service to the Uniteds of Leeds and Manchester, plus Coventry City, as a player – as well as managing both Coventry and Middlesbrough. And the warmest welcome of all, in a city fiercely proud of its legends, will always await him at Elland Road, home of Leeds United FC.

Cellino: “I Speak For The Fans”… But Then Betrays Them?   –   by Rob Atkinson

…and stop lying to us, my friend

An exclusive report in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, under the byline of Richard Sutcliffe, claims that Leeds United was offered – and decided to refuse – the option of playing Monday night’s rearranged Sky TV fixture against Middlesbrough on Saturday lunchtime. The game would still have been televised, with a kick off of 12:30 as opposed to the original 3:00pm, but it seems very likely that far less disruption would have been caused to travelling fans long-standing transport and accommodation arrangements.

Many fans were put to inconvenience and financial loss by the short-notice announcement of the game’s move to Monday night. The Football League has claimed that an announcement could have been made much earlier, but for United’s behind the scenes attempts to leave the fixture as originally scheduled. Now it appears that a compromise offer of a Saturday lunchtime kick-off, which would have saved the plans of many long-distance supporters due to arrive in Leeds on Saturday, was rejected by the club. 

This will be somewhat galling to say the least for Leeds United fans in general – and those who suffered inconvenience at short notice in particular. United owner Massimo Cellino has done his best to heap all of the blame on the Football League and/or Sky TV. This blog has no track record for defending those bodies, but it does appear from Sutcliffe’s Yorkshire Post article that Cellino will have pointed questions to answer about the treatment of fans in this instance.

Cellino, after all, has presented himself as the defender of fans’ interests in this affair. The club owner, writing in the match day programme for last night’s Boro game, said: “We are aware of many supporters, not only from England but across the world, who made plans to attend this game at the originally scheduled date of Saturday at 3pm. Those fans feel the effect financially and emotionally, but it is difficult for their voices to be heard. It is with their interests in mind that we continue to push for change.”

It would be somewhat bizarre of Cellino to bemoan the financial and emotional effects on fans in one breath, if with another he is rejecting a compromise offer that would have negated virtually all of those undesirable effects. If this report is true, it would seem that our owner, no stranger to the art of manipulating the truth, has once again strayed from the path of strict veracity. Indeed, this would be more than just another casual untruth. Some might say that it’s rank hypocrisy for Cellino to pose as the defender of the fans against those nasty League barons and TV moguls – whilst simultaneously acting behind all of our backs so as to ensure that those fans will suffer the “financial and emotional” effects that it now seems could easily have been avoided. 

There’s no apparent reason to disbelieve the Yorkshire Post claims. Which leaves Leeds United, in the person of Massimo Cellino to answer these questions:

  1. Is this claim by the Yorkshire Post of a compromise offer – allegedly made as early as December 15th – true?
  2. If it is true, then why was it rejected – when acceptance would have minimised disruption to travelling supporters, including many coming from abroad?
  3. How can Cellino claim to be looking out for fans’ interests in these circumstances?
  4. If it can be shown that supporters have incurred financial loss and inconvenience due to actions and positions taken by the club, then what plans does the club have to compensate those fans for that avoidable loss and inconvenience?
  5. When is Leeds United going to return to a more transparent approach in its dealings with supporters?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything believes that answers to these questions are the very least that fans deserve. 

Over to you, Mr. Cellino… 

Leeds United Celebrates Victory in ‘Battle of the Lamppost’   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino sunshine

Cellino – winner or loser?

As Leeds United, this famous old, formerly successful, football club continues its laboured progress through one of the bleakest periods of its long and illustrious history, owner Massimo Cellino is jubilant today over a notable victory of historic proportions.

Forget promotion, forget League titles and cup final triumphs. Forget rampaging through Europe as the best team around. Cellino has redefined the word “victory” for United and its long-suffering fans. For he has just taken on a small group of those fans and has emerged a big, big winner. Leeds United, under Cellino’s courageous leadership, has accomplished the unprecedented feat of forcing the removal of a poster from a lamppost. These days, for Leeds, it really doesn’t get any bigger or better than that.

Of course, some disaffected malcontents will carp and criticise. Cellino should have ignored the poster, they will say. He should have kept his own counsel and denied the oxygen of publicity to a rabble of ungrateful fans who are  unreasonably demanding that United should be a proper football club again. Cellino, in taking this brave action, has merely drawn attentions to the grievances of a small group of activists, probably no more than 30,000 or so. This is what critics might claim.

But Cellino knows that he has secured a famous victory, and that his literally dozens of faithful acolytes will be thrilled at his success. “They shunt of bothered with that poster”, a pro-Cellino spokesman exulted yesterday. “Its defiantly been a wrong move from people what don’t have a clue how much Massimo has done for Leeds pacifically and football in general”.

The leaders of the Cellino Out campaign were unrepentant, however. “There are other campaigns being planned”, this blog was assured. “Just listen for the voice of the fans and watch for a blizzard of leaflets when we play Middlesbrough on Sky next Monday…”

Readers are cordially invited to submit their own opinion as to who, if anyone, has emerged victorious from The Battle of the Lamppost.

Shambolic Display at Middlesbrough… But Would Leeds Coach be ALLOWED to Drop Bellusci? – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino: calling the shots?

Cellino: calling the shots?

By common consent, the main difference between Leeds United and high-flying Middlesbrough at the weekend was the less-than-helpful presence in the Whites back line of one Giuseppe Bellusci, a man to whom the intricacies of central defending appear to be what Rugby League is to Julian Clary.

Bellusci’s laughably weak attempt at a clearance, making barely any contact with a cross-ball well within his reach, led directly to David Nugent‘s opening goal. The Italian then compounded that error by heading past his own keeper under no particular pressure, to double the hosts’ advantage. The game was already as good as over at this relatively early stage, even with Middlesbrough looking rather less than dominant. Leeds – or, more specifically, Bellusci – had thrown it away, far more then Boro having had to earn their decisive lead.

Support for that point of view came from United pundit, ex-striker for the Whites and passionate Leeds fan Noel Whelan, who was particularly scathing in his summing-up, both of the  “shambolic” defender’s performance and, more generally, his suitability to represent Leeds United. Annoyingly for many, the team selection was made in spite of the availability of Liam Cooper, who had been in possession of the shirt, and had hardly disgraced himself. Some pretty fair judges feel that “disgracing himself” just about nails it as far as Bellusci’s performance on Sunday at The Riverside is concerned.

Even Head Coach Uwe Rösler has been somewhat equivocal in the matter, falling some way short of backing a player under heavy fire in the press. “I think it would be unfair after losing 3-0 to go into details of any individual player,” Rosler said, when asked about Bellusci. “I saw the game, you saw the game and that is where we should leave it.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of a squad member Rösler had – apparently – preferred to the evidently steadier and more reliable Cooper.

Or did he?

It does rather beg the question of where the final say rests in team selection matters. Rösler can sometimes appear rather uncomfortable when quizzed about certain decisions, and it’s a matter for some concern as to exactly how far he’s able to go in defending his own picks – or maybe excusing those of people above him in the United hierarchy. In short, many outside the club are concerned that, since the departure of Adam Pearson – who had gently ushered owner Massimo Cellino safely into the background – the Captain may now be back on the bridge again, and chucking his weight about to the detriment of the ship’s safety and smooth passage.

It will be very interesting to see exactly what the shape of the team will be for Leeds’ next game, especially the make-up of the defence. After such a very damning reaction from both press and public to Giuseppe Bellusci’s disastrous showing at Middlesbrough, you feel that some pointed questions will be asked if he survives the chop and keeps his place against Birmingham City. Those questions would almost certainly include loud voices demanding to know who exactly does pick the team, and why certain individuals are selected despite, rather than because of, current form.

Rösler is a professional and, reading between the lines of his comments about what went wrong at The Riverside, it’s clear he wasn’t exactly happy with the showing of a man who gave away Boro’s first goal and scored their second himself. It’s fair enough for us to be asking – will he be allowed to drop Bellusci, if he sees fit so to do? And, if he’s not allowed to make such a decision, with his managerial neck on the line and relying for his continued employment on getting results – then is his position as United’s Head Coach even tenable?

This blog believes that, no, it wouldn’t be. If Rösler doesn’t have full control of team selection – and there are sound reasons for believing that this may be the case – then, quite frankly, he should jump before he’s pushed. Then, clearly, the solids would hit the air-conditioning. But maybe that’s what needs to happen for some clarity to emerge in the vexed question of who really calls the shots in Leeds United’s match-day team selection.

Heavy Metal Football Turns To Wagnerian Tragedy for Leeds   –   by Rob Atkinson

Bellusci - bad day at the office

Bellusci – bad day at the office

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.

Boro Took the Mick, Mowatt Took the Chance, Leeds Took the Points – by Rob Atkinson

Gibson

This blog has had plenty to say over the past few months about the Football League and its attitude towards Leeds United. That’s a bone of contention that goes back many years, to the days of the late and, quite frankly, unlamented Alan Hardaker.

The current League v Leeds stand-off surrounds United’s temporarily disbarred owner, Massimo Cellino, for whom the suits appear to have it in, big style. Doubtless, many owners and administrators at other clubs will have had a quiet chuckle to themselves over the Leeds situation, particularly those who, unlike the oft-hounded Cellino, appear to be getting away with murder – or at least rape, grand larceny, money-laundering and making a cushy living from the distribution of porn. It’s usually open season on Leeds, and clearly even those of dubious scruples will feel free to have a giggle, if unobserved.

There’s a certain etiquette to this, however; you don’t publicly laugh and point a mocking finger, lest such an overt show of disrespect should rebound on you, leaving you with egg dripping off your face and looking pretty silly. After all, why antagonise and motivate a foe about to meet you on the field of battle? Why do their rabble-rousing for them? There’s little to be gained in making a joke when there’s a danger of that joke, ultimately, being on you. It’s known as “setting yourself up for a fall”, or as we might say in the Broad Acres, “Beggin’ for thi arse to be kicked”. It’s really not wise and best avoided. Most sensible people realise this and conduct themselves accordingly. Not so, it seems, Middlesbrough FC. They risked looking stupid with their “Fit and Proper” banner, pictured above. And, one smash and grab defeat later, stupid is just what they look – however fit and proper Boro owner Steve Gibson might normally be.

It really is rather difficult to understand the thinking, the strategic logic, behind such a pointless gesture. Alright, this blog has added its own six penn’orth with the text over the picture – but we’re in a position to do that. The battle is over, the winners are celebrating a seasonal haul of six points, the losers are licking their wounds and wondering what the hell happened. Now is the time to gloat and, if the gloating is done by throwing an unwise pre-match taunt back in the crestfallen face of the unwise taunter, then so much the sweeter it is. It’s the state of mind that convinced someone this was a good idea in the first place – that’s the thing baffling me. What’s to be gained? Very little, surely. But you stand to lose much if you psyche-up capable opponents by blowing raspberries before hostilities commence. You might very well lose the match, as well as a lot of face. This is what happened to Middlesbrough, and serve them right. Surely, someone up there in Smogland is regretting that banner right now.

In professional sport, this kind of stuff matters – more than you might think. There’s a fine line between victory and defeat, and every competitor strives for any marginal advantage. It’s by accruing those small gains that you enhance your chances of success. It’s hardly rocket science, but it is Sports Psychology. And line one on page one of that book reads: Do not hand your opponent the initiative by saying or doing something daft to rile them up before the game. That’s the First Commandment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting Leeds United’s victory at Boro down to one daft banner. Nevertheless, it could well have been a factor. A player in the United team might have seen it and thought “Cheeky gets!”, before mentally rolling up the sleeves and getting ready to demonstrate the unwisdom of taking the mick. Some of the wiser heads on the Boro side may equally have been having a little groan to themselves and damning the stupidity of whoever had risked winding Leeds up to give them a hard time. Even small factors make a difference.

It wasn’t that good a banner anyway – rather embarrassing if anything. The way it furled gave the impression that somebody had stepped on Mr. Gibson’s face whilst it was still warm, leaving it looking lop-sidedly ridiculous. A banner so large must have had club approval – it just defies belief that they should sanction such a blatant own goal.

On the evidence of the Boro game, I’m still fairly certain that the Smoggies will go up. They’re a seriously good side and – well as Leeds undeniably played – if Signor Silvestri had been in less miraculously-inspired form, we could well have been buried. I’d seen Middlesbrough performing well in Cup games at Man City and Arsenal and, realistically, I worried for us. But things went our way, we battled hard, our keeper looked as if he could show King Canute up and actually hold back the tide – it just went our way; well done us.

How much, if at all, did that banner aid our cause? We’ll never know, clearly. But I do know it’s not the sort of thing I’d like to see at Leeds. We have enough trouble winning games (with due deference to this great recent run) without doing the opposition’s team talk for them. It’s just not a good idea at all.

Silly Boro – really very silly. Many thanks for the six points, though. We’ll miss you next year for that much, I suppose – but not for your strangely daft, weirdly unfunny sense of “humour”.

Resilient Leeds Count on Silvestri to Pip Boro at the Double – by Rob Atkinson

IMG_8007

Graphic illustration that there’s only one really important stat…

 

Middlesbrough 0, Leeds United 1 (Mowatt 3′)

This was not exactly the archetypal “classic” away performance by Leeds United. There were too many easily identifiable flaws for that accolade, not quite enough accuracy in the passing, too much profligacy in possession, far too many clear sights for Middlesbrough of the admirable Marco Silvestri‘s goal. It was certainly an effective performance in the end though, and without doubt a hugely significant win, a massively valuable three points and a welcome second successive away clean sheet. But what an uncomfortable lunchtime it made for us poor fans, our nerves raw and shredded, our backsides numb from sluggish circulation after two hours on the very edge of our seats. It was a time of two, maybe three moments of climactic fulfilment (including the final whistle) and many, many more times of bowel-loosening terror. One way or another, watching Leeds United on a day like this is not easy on the underwear.

Leeds started as if they meant to tear the Smoggies’ throats out, fresh from a pre-match repast of raw meat washed down with rocket fuel. They harried and snapped at the hosts, pressed hard, closed down and all those other coaching manual phrases so beloved of Redders and others of his ilk. And, after a mere two minutes or so, United had their reward when Lewis Cook anticipated brilliantly to nip in front of his man and seize an unwise throw-out from the Boro keeper. Cook, looking as if he’d been patrolling Leeds’ midfield for a decade rather than just a few months, surged into the area on the right and cut a smart ball back to the ever-available Alex Mowatt. With a challenge steaming in, it was an act of calculated bravery for the Leeds youngster to get his shot off, and Mowatt was not found wanting for bottle; the slight deflection that took the ball into the corner of Boro’s net was ample and deserved reward.

After that, it must be said, the story of the match was Boro constantly battering away at the Leeds defence, more often than not being thwarted by the very last line as keeper Silvestri earned a full month’s wages in a tad over 100 minutes. Leeds managed to punctuate the hosts’s sustained assault with some lethal-looking breaks out of entrenched defence, but they didn’t win a corner until the very last knockings of the first half. This first flag kick should have sent Leeds in at the interval 2-0 ahead and really far more comfortable than the balance of play would suggest – but new hero and captain Sol Bamba, having made up ground brilliantly to get to the ball as it swung in low, sadly made a poor contact with his head and a golden chance went begging.

The second half was one of those where, the longer it went on, the clearer it became that – try though they might – there was nothing happening today for the side on the wrong end of the scoreline. That much was clear to anyone not suffering in Leeds United colours, tensely watching the siege continue and the last-ditch resistance miraculously holding firm, every second dragging by like five minutes of regular time. The harder Boro tried, the less likely it appeared that anything would drop for them – and, amazingly, there was not one opportunity for even an FL-briefed ref to award a penalty against the dogged United, who retained their shape admirably and did not allow the increasing fury and desperation of the onslaught to rattle them.

Late in the game, as the ninety minutes were slowly running out, Boro went down to ten men, having already made their three substitutions, when Jelle Vossen had to go off with a head injury. This may have done something to settle the visitors’ nerves, if not the anxious United supporters – but it didn’t stop ten-man Boro continuing to push hard for at least an equaliser during over ten minutes of stoppage time. Leeds saw it out, utilising what they’re now calling “sensible game management” – probably a modern-day term for time-wasting. But the whistle went with Leeds still one up, having even carved out the odd late chance to put the match away completely. It was a hard-fought win, a tenacious performance and a deserved result – though anyone with a heart would have to weep for poor Boro. Heartlessly, I merely laughed.

In the end, Leeds had secured a league double over probably the best team in the division, courtesy of two goals in a little over four minutes playing time. Billy Sharp’s late winner at Elland Road in August and Alex Mowatt’s early strike on a sunny Teesside February Saturday, combined with excellent results against other divisional high-flyers, might just give a firmer indication of United’s potential for next season than any brief flirtation with the relegation battle at times in the current campaign.

Looking up, which we now can legitimately do – as opposed to nervously over our shoulders – we can still see a seemingly unbridgeable gap between our mid-table berth and the play-off pack. But stranger things have happened than for such a gulf to be bridged – though not many. After five wins in six games for Redders’ previously hapless troops, and perhaps a few judicial additions in the loan window, who can possibly know or guess what might lie ahead now?

Will Boro’ Bore Draw End the Era of Austerity at Leeds? – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - wondering what the hell he's bought?

Cellino – wondering what the hell he’s bought?

Middlesbrough 0, Leeds United 0

If Massimo Cellino is indeed confirmed as the new owner of Leeds United sometime next week – and social media comment from his son seems to indicate that Monday might be a significant day – then it is somehow appropriate that over a decade of bleak poverty and tightly-knotted purse-strings should be brought to a close by such a mess of a match as we saw on Saturday lunchtime at Middlesbrough’s Meccano stadium.

In financial terms, the poverty of ambition Leeds displayed in this frustrating encounter – together with a complete lack of composure and, in some cases, ability – was an apt summation of the years of penury and deprivation we’ve all suffered since dropping off our Premier League perch in 2004.

Jack Butland

Jack Butland

On the other hand, should you wish a theatrical metaphor, this match ranged from slapstick comedy to low farce as two inept attacks somehow failed to breach two dodgy defences.  Comedy and farce could have morphed into tragedy if debutant United keeper Jack Butland had been cruelly denied the clean sheet his immaculate display most definitely deserved.  Butland averted that tragedy by his own efforts.  Commanding and assured, he gathered high balls, pulled off one spectacular save in the first half and one brave Schmeichel-like block in the second.  He also found time to prevent a Warnock own-goal and, in general, he was man of the match by several country miles.

In truth, it was a match that defied any attempt to sit back and watch your favourite team playing your favourite sport.  Although the result could have been worse, the experience was about as enjoyable as having wisdom teeth extracted without benefit of novocaine.  It was a game to anger any fan who has invested faith and money in supporting Leeds United.

All was frenzy, everything was done in such unseemly haste and there was a distinct lack of any apparent ability to pass to a man in the same colour shirt.  It was annoying, it was depressing – God alone knows what Cellino & Son must have thought.  Major surgery is needed to transform this squad into one which might challenge next year.  If only the heroic Jack Butland could be part of that recruitment programme.  But, surely – even Mark Hughes can’t be that daft?

If this appalling game does prove to be the last before our shady Italian is at last approved by the League, then it’s a suitably low note to end a very low period in the history of Leeds United.  But any new era is, at least initially, likely to bring us more of the same.  Next week’s opponents, QPR, are highly unlikely to be as forgiving of our defensive shambles as shot-shy Boro were, and the Sky cameras a week on might well witness a bit of a battering for our heroes. But, with Leeds, you just never know.  And after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the Cellinos could no doubt confirm.

Surely, today’s game was confirmation, if any were needed, that this season is a dead duck for Leeds.  We’d have to pull off a miraculous run to go into the play-offs – and even then there’s that pesky fundamental law of creation that dictates we just don’t do play-offs, so it’s perhaps just as well not to even think about it.  And we’d have to suffer a disaster of X-Factor proportions to fall into any real relegation danger – surely there are enough truly awful teams down there to ensure at least our safety for participation in next season’s Championship campaign.

No, this season now is all about doing the best we can on the pitch while more important matters are being sorted out off it.  What measures will be taken, what changes might be made – that’s anybody’s guess.  You have to assume that Cellino is itching to engage with the club and start putting his stamp on the whole place.  Whatever dull and depressing football the remaining matches might have in store for us, the events behind the scenes, at least, promise more entertainment than we’ve had for a good long while.

Bring it on.  Let’s get behind the new owner as soon as he’s confirmed at least as “fit and proper” as the Porn Kings who run West Ham, and the various other dodgy geezers in boardrooms up and down the country.  We’ll have to trust that the Cellino Effect might have a galvanising effect on our beloved club, such that – hopefully – performances such as I’ve just witnessed and ground my teeth over will be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to say I’m helping a mate celebrate his birthday this evening and, in the course of that celebration, I intend to drink enough to forget all about the events today in Smogland.  With my luck, though, I’ll have a great time tonight but then have nightmares about next week’s likely drubbing in Shepherd’s Bush.

It’s a hard life being a Leeds fan.  But maybe not for too much longer…

Leeds In Playoff Zone After Edging Out Boro – by Rob Atkinson

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Skipper Jason Pearce soars above the defence to score Leeds’ winner

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.