Leeds wrestle a draw from Boro
The clash of the Titans this one, well relatively speaking at least for the opening month of the Championship between the beautifully Bielsa honed sock taggers and the industrially hewn long throw merchants from up North!
Past history was entirely irrelevant for this fixture with both sides setting the early pace this season and to the victor the spoils. Boro haven’t a particularly good record at Elland Road either through not playing well, being clogged or being stitched up by Officials. Whatever the multitude of previous grievances tonight’s game with TP in charge had a confident assured feeling about Boro. Braithwaite aside TP was expected to go with his usual starting eleven with the vacancy created by the departing Dane likely going to one of Besic, Wing or Hugill. The only injury concern was still Rudy Gestede with wholesale changes in place for both Managers from Tuesday’s nights Carabao Cup games.
Bielsa’s Leeds marched on together straight out of the Cup on Tuesday with a side mainly composed of Boro hand me downs. Tonight Bielsa would be without Cooper, Dallas and Forshaw who are all on the treatment table but able to recall what has been his preferred options that saw them top on GD from Boro. With an inauspicious window now finally closed at 17.00 hours both managers could focus on Football once again instead of admin in chasing what for Boro has been largely lost causes.
The Team news had a few surprises in store, Cooper was declared fit and playing for Leeds in place of Jansson with Hernandez seemingly dropped for ex Boro loanee Harrison. The biggest surprise was the sight of Braithwaite on the bench for Boro giving mixed messages but with the European window open until after the game who knew what would pan out. Newly arrived Saint McQueen made the bench as news was filtering through that Marvin Johnson had departed Boro for the Blades and not Hull as seemed to be the case this morning. Of other notable interest was that another ex-Boro boy Paddy Bamford was on the bench for the dirties.
The atmosphere did not let the TV cameras down as the teams entered the pitch and the two Managers took up their places in their respective Technical areas. TP on tenterhooks at the edge of his area and Bielsa sat on an upturned plastic bucket looking more like Oor Wullie than an Argentinian soccer genius. The Championships top attackers against the Championships meanest defence meant that we were in for an interesting contest. The game started with high intensity and incredibly continued in that vein for the entire evening. No quarter expected and no quarter given with no sinew unstretched and no drop of sweat in reserve on the part of either side.
Boro were first to create when Britt was bundled over by Berardi to allow Besic an opportunity to float a free kick across the Leeds goalmouth aiming for the big duo Flint and Ayala but Peacock-Farrell got a glove to it and it was then cleared for a corner by Douglas. The resulting corner was wasted by Boro as Ref Tim Robinson blew for an infringement by a Boro player. The first chance for Leeds came as a result of a hoofed ball for Harrison to run onto who played in Klich who fluffed his lines crossing into an empty box.
Another chance went the way of Leeds when Berardi edged Britt off the ball setting up Saiz whose shot went well over as he was closed down by Clayton. A great piece of skill by Assombalonga saw him dummy the ball, turn and spin around past Berardi who dragged him down inside the box but Robinson bottled the decision and waved play on when it looked a stonewall penalty. That moment set the Refereeing tone for the night. After denying that it would be extremely difficult to penalise other miscreants for the remainder of the night and believe me there were plenty of miscreants from then on in both boxes. Set pieces at times resembled WWE rather than a football match as players were grappled, throttled, head locked, body slammed and upended all seemingly unenforceable by the Ref and his Assistants.
Back to the game itself and Berardi was next to try his luck with a hit and hope 30 yarder which was escorted by Randolph well past his post without showing any major concern. Harrison was keen to impress and went for a 55/45 ball with Friend who caught his ex-colleague late and was lucky to escape with a stern talking to. Boro then threatened with a long ball from ex Leeds man Howson for Britt to chase but Britt is no Adama and Peacock-Farrell came out quickly to lash it clear. Jonny Howson found himself inside the Leeds half, turned Ayling and drove forwards determinedly and unleashed a swerving shout that had Peacock-Farrell diving to his left to tip it around the upright. The resulting corner caused consternation in the box with plenty of grappling, wrestling and general gamesmanship which resulted in Ayling almost heading into his own net but for the heroics of Peacock-Farrell again.
Boro were enjoying a rare spell of offensive dominance with Besic creating and Shotton getting down the flanks but it was a bit laboured, lacking any real magic and the absence of pace was a glaring issue. We almost paid the price on the half hour mark as a Leeds corner was headed down by Ayling but cleared off the line by Clayton who seemed to be everywhere, reading and anticipating, chasing and closing. A minute later Dael Fry did a Beckenbauer impersonation, breaking from defence and powering forwards down the pitch, leaving three Leeds defenders in his wake until he was scythed down by Saiz who earned himself a Yellow for his troubles. It was great to see the confidence oozing from the youngster especially in what was an intense hostile atmosphere at what looked like a pretty full Elland Road.
Alioski then sent Shotton flying out near the wing in front of the Linesman and distinctly wasn’t impressed with Ryan’s aerial ability in evading serious injury. Nobody was holding back and every tackle and challenge fully committed. A characteristic fast flowing slick Bielsa move involving Roofe, Saiz and Harrsion ended with an over hit cross that was driven back in by Douglas and as Roofe claimed a penalty for a rare innocent looking collision in the box Harrison headed tamely to Randolph. That just about concluded the first forty five minutes as the Ref blew for half time.
Full blooded and energetic but little real quality on display, obdurate defiance was the order of the evening. Boro had a game plan and it was working, defensively in holding the line it was a masterclass.
Unsurprisingly TP did not feel the need for any changes at the interval as the same eleven on both sides recommenced battle. The second half started pretty much as the first had ended. Plenty of Leeds possession and even when Downing misjudged a bounce allowing Roofe a chance he blazed it well over from distance. Try as they might and with all the possession stats on their side Leeds simply couldn’t lay a glove on Randolph’s goal. There were raw challenges flying about and a few feigned injuries and a look of indignance from Phillips as Mo let him know he was in a game and as red mist started to descend Douglas slid in on Clayton and picked up a Yellow card.
Another free kick from Besic was launched in with the usual grappling, shirt tugging, hugging and almost amorous intent at times from those in White shirts but Ayala headed wide. Saiz was breaking a few minutes later and Clayts was going to make sure he didn’t make progress with a run terminating challenge earning himself unwanted attention from Tim Robinson who seemed happy to whistle and wave cards outside the box but seemingly saw nothing of the sort when more serious offences occurred inside both the six and the eighteen yard boxes.
Cooper was next to receive a card as he eventually was booked under the totting up procedure which by now had run well into double figures. Berardi was then to see yellow for a stupid challenge on Britt near the halfway line, literally going through the back of him, clearing him out. An Ayala header was blocked by Peacock- Farrell performing a star jump at the far post to keep out last week’s game winner from celebrating again. Shortly afterwards Dani managed to up the mounting card count by taking out Klich simultaneously preventing a quick break.
Ten minutes remaining, controversy galore but neither side could break down the other. Leeds had all of the ball but it was Boro who looked the more likely to score. Bielsa then made his move and brought Jansson on for Berardi who had injured himself trying a cynical mid-air kick at Ayala and looked to have wrecked some knee ligaments in the process of landing awkwardly on his hip. Bamford then entered the fray to a mixed chorus of jeers and boos from the away section drowned out by hopeful appreciation from the home fans.
The substitution nearly paid off as a through ball played over the top saw Paddy spin and take off in pursuit like we have witnessed a few times ourselves in the past but Flint sensing the impending threat stuck out an arm and stopped his graceful sprint in its tracks collecting a yellow and conceding a dangerous free kick. With Seconds remaining ex-Wolves free kick specialist Barry Douglas lined up his angles while Randolph lined up his wall and the moment we had all feared came to nothing as Randolph calmly anticipated the angle of the shot as it went over the wall, collecting with aplomb near the far corner. That was the last action in a tense battle which saw Boro maintain yet another clean sheet, a very credible away point and in the process showing the Championship that this Leeds side are not invincible after all.
A draw was a fair result but Boro did have a few strong penalty shouts with both Britt and Flint being subjected to WWE tactics rather than football. MOM was Clayton for his commitment to the cause which shone like a beacon. Dael Fry made a couple of Beckenbauer runs in the game to his credit, Shotton was involved all game and Besic did start to influence things far more in the second half but Clayts was the one that was everywhere and putting in the sort of gritty display that will have him first on TP’s team sheet after the International break.