After Aston Villa’s late comeback against Sheffield United, Leeds United knew that a point at Middlesbrough would see them return, if only temporarily, to the Championship summit. And so it turned out, although the draw was only achieved at the last gasp of a lengthy stoppage period, which resulted from a traumatic scare over the health of teenage United star winger Jack Clarke.
Leeds had travelled north to Teesside bolstered by the fact that local rivals Sheffield United had failed to capitalise on their 3-0 lead at Villa Park and remained two points back in third place. With long term injury absentee Patrick Bamford starting his first league game for Leeds, and with the dependable Kalvin Phillips back in his defensive midfield role, Leeds were perhaps better equipped to meet the stern challenge of promotion rivals, as compared to their previous match at home to Norwich. They started brightly enough against a Middlesbrough side humbled at League Two Newport County in midweek. But the home side had the incentive of recovering from that humiliating Cup exit and, as the first half wore on, they began to trouble the Leeds defence.
Reaching the interval with the match goalless, Leeds must have been looking forward to taking greater control later on, with Pablo Hernandez replacing Jack Clarke in an effort to pierce the Boro defence. But only two minutes into the second half, Pablo was guilty of a bit of ball watching as Boro broke down the left wing, to put a dangerous ball across the edge of the Leeds box, where Lewis Wing found a smart finish to put the home side 1-0 up.
The remainder of the match was a troubled mixture of worry and frustration for Leeds, with young Jack Clarke taken ill on the Leeds bench and needing lengthy treatment with play held up. Clarke, 18, received first class treatment at the ground and was then taken to hospital for tests, with players on both sides clearly shaken that such a young player showed such alarming symptoms.
As play resumed, Boro did indeed tire after their exertions on a heavy pitch at Newport, and Leeds duly exerted some sort of control over proceedings. All of a sudden, the odds seemed much more in favour of United salvaging at least a point, or maybe even a crucial comeback victory. But the breaks still weren’t coming up front for all their attacking play, with some good chances created and missed, notably for Bamford and Kemar Roofe. Eventually, though, the pressure told and Boro were denied at the last gasp when Leeds United scored from a left wing corner. The ball found Liam Cooper, who headed powerfully goalwards where Phillips connected with the ball to dispatch the equaliser past Boro keeper Darren Randolph. The point-saving goal had come in the last of twelve added minutes, much to the joy and relief of the travelling United support who duly raised the roof of the Riverside Stadium.
A draw was probably a fair result, as each side had dominated half the game, though both would regret some missed opportunities to add to the scoring. All was well that ended well, with young Clarke evidently feeling better by the end of the day. And there was a classy touch from Boro manager Tony Pulis, who deflected questions about the lengthy stoppage time by saying “The more important thing is making sure the boy, fingers crossed, hopefully the boy’s okay and he recovers because he’s a very, very talented young player. All our thoughts from Middlesbrough Football Club actually go to the lad Clarke.”