|Pos. 21st (37 pts)||WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2020||Pos. 2nd (65 pts)|
SHOTS (on target)
Friend without benefits!
Automatic promotion chasers and nearest geographical rivals in the Championship versus a team and club which is looking rudderless, crashing down to League One live on national TV, what could possibly go wrong?
Woodgate took his place in the home dug out knowing that this was not going to be an easy evening’s work on the pitch or off it. Bielsa on the other hand came out relaxed, confident complete with his accessory blue bucket. One Manager looking upwards whist the other looking behind his back let alone down the table. Bielsa did have a few injury concerns coming into tonight’s game, Keeper Kiko Casilla had a hand injury meaning that it was likely that Illan Meslier could be in line for a start in goal for the whites. Key man Kalvin Phillips had to go off on Saturday with a calf injury and although rated 50/50 it wasn’t believed that he would be fit.
Leeds were looking for their first away victory of 2020 but Boro’s problems went well beyond the aspiration of a simple win or even a draw tonight. Woodgate needed to find a formation and set up to save what was left of a somewhat flickering career as Boro Manager. Three changes this time saw Johnson, Assombalonga and Morrison drop to the bench with Coulson, Clayton and Tavernier returning. Spence was back on the bench with the ominous absence of not so super sub Gestede. Prior to kick off it looked like the back four ball had come out of the tactics Bingo bag with Coulson and Tav providing the width in a 4231 and Clayts part of the duo in the middle along with Saville.
Gavin Ward’s whistle got this evenings event underway at a chilly floodlit Riverside with Leeds adorned in a gay yet macabre dark grey and pink outfit. The kick off saw Leeds pass it around and back to Casilla who was deemed fit to start in goal despite his hand injury. With no shots on target from Boro in their last two games at all it was probably considered that he may not have any need for the use of a hand tonight.
In our first foray Coulson skinned Ayling in the second minute and put in a great cross that had Casilla and his defence worried but there were no Red shirts quick enough to react and read Coulson’s intentions. In fairness many of them may have been very confused as to why he was attempting to set up a scoring opportunity and struggled to process or even recognise the move. In reply a good cross from the right wing to the far post was headed clear by Howson in the fourth minute as the opening exchanges were measured but not exactly inspiring on the part of both sides.
A perceived rash challenge from Shotton approaching eight minutes gave away a free kick near the half way line but Leeds obliged by recycling it. As they continued their laissez-faire approach Coulson nearly nicked in on a risky back pass. A challenge from Klich on Saville in the ninth minute ended with a free kick to Boro and a bizarre yellow to Saville presumably for expressing an uncharitable remark. The Boro free kick from the half way line was wasted with a poor delivery, no surprise there then.
A run by Saville down the left wing ended with a throw in delivered to the edge of the box which went over to Tav on the right wing but after a series of over played interpassing the move eventually broke down but it did show an improved degree of confidence that had been lacking of late. On thirteen minutes Ayling put in a great cross to Bamford who looking suspiciously offside had lost Shotton but his header was straight at Pears as Boro hearts were momentarily in mouths anticipating the curse of the return of the old boy.
Clayton responded with an old boy effort of his own just a minute later when he blasted a volley over from 30 yards. On 15 minutes Hernandez looked like he had been hit with a Tyson Fury uppercut judging by the way he went down pleading for a defibrillator when Coulson sneezed near him. The Ref fortunately was having none of it but if he had booked Saville presumably for a comment then surely the theatrics of Hernandez was just as worthy of a yellow card.
On 18 minutes Coulson pounced on a punch out from Pears but as he darted clear Ayling brought him down to earn a free kick near the half way line. The free kick of course came to nothing and Leeds launched a counter attack which was repelled but a poor pass to Tav saw Leeds come back at us and you could sense the pressure starting to build with Boro looking very sloppy in possession. A low cross from Harrison wide left in to Bamford saw him deflect the ball just wide of the upright as the visitors were getting closer. Another inspiring bit of play by Coulson saw him get a cross across the Leeds box, Fletcher chased it and cut it back to Wing whose shot went wide. Leeds then attacked and Boro had Shotton to thank for some resolute defending. Twenty-five minutes now elapsed and Boro were holding out but posed a threat in getting forward as Friend had a run into the Leeds box but two defenders saw it eventually go out for a goal kick.
Fletcher went off the pitch to retie his boot laces, why I have no idea but when he was ready to come back on the Ref seemed reluctant to let him re enter the field of play. Boro were probing and enjoying a good spell of possession at this stage which ended with Tav taking a twenty-yard shot well wide which typified the events so far from the Home side. Leeds then burst forward on 30 minutes with Harrison who crossed to Dallas who cutting open the Boro defence unleashed a shot that Pears done very well to push out but Costa followed up, again Pears blocked as the flag went up for offside. That was two good chances that Leeds had had on target to Boro’s none on target. As good as Boro had battled tellingly they had tested Casilla yet.
A penalty appeal from Costa after a Coulson challenge was dismissed but a few seconds later the ball was rolling across Pears’ six-yard box with no Grey shirts to tap in as warning signs were growing. Boro were living dangerously or battling with spirit depending on your half full or half empty gauge. A minute later and Bamford again had a shot on target testing Pears at his near post. As Tav switched flanks Costa brought him down and with four minutes remaining the free kick was delivered by Tav himself and won by Fletcher but under pressure his shot went wide.
A foul by Friend on Costa near the corner flag saw a free kick launched in by Harrison but it was punched clear by Pears in fine form and as the ball this time came back down the opposite flank Howson gave away an identical free kick on the opposite corner flag. Fortunately, it was poorly hit allowing Boro to break but their man advantage was lost, delayed by a poor pass but as Tavernier slalomed his way into the box, he went down but the Ref ignored the half-hearted pleas.
On forty-five minutes Friend in a brain freeze moment just over the half way line passed the ball straight into the path of the advancing Klich who in turn played in Bamford to Hernandez and on the edge of the box, hit a curling effort off the post but rebounding out for Klich to pick up and with a Harrison one-two, let fly and with Moukoudi trying to block simultaneously MMP was eccentrically announcing “one extra minute added time” fired it past Pears and off the far post to put Leeds one up. It was very sloppy and careless from Friend but the quality of the two attacks had been chalk and cheese and as the whistle sounded for half time boos perhaps a little unfairly based just om the previous 45 minutes could be heard very clearly.
I don’t think there was much more to offer from Boro, it was better than of late but totally lacking offensively and so the sides came out unchanged. Boro got the second half underway and nearly found themselves in trouble quickly with Shotton having to be quick to clear his lines. A weak cross from the left wing by Coulson was sent in but Casilla collected it like it was a practice match and then clearing it Leeds broke and with some slick quick interplay Dallas unleashed a twenty-yard effort needing Pears to get down again quick. A clear contrast in attacking ability illustrated in twenty seconds.
Coulson created another move down the left which ended with a nervy Leeds back-pass to Casilla which at least was on target. Saville then had a thirty yard effort tipped over by Casilla for a near post corner on 50 minutes The corner was initially cleared by Bamford and as it came back it was headed across the box by Howson but Tavernier’s effort was skewed way over.
A Hernandez shot as he failed to be closed down had Pears this time tipping it over. As the second of two successive corners were played in Harrison cut into the box and looked like he was tripped by Clayts but again the Ref waved play on. The movement between the two sides was very marked with Leeds breaking with speed, intuitively finding team mates while Boro slowed the ball down and looked for a Red shirt by which time any modicum of momentum was gone. A corner on the fifty-seventh minute was defended but then allowed in error to go out for a second corner instead of Saville clearing the danger. Tav picked up on a loose ball and looked to be scythed down in the fifty eighth minute after some poor Leeds defending but again the Ref Gavin Ward was consistent in waving play on. A brilliant driving run from his own half by Moukoudi was played out to Tav but his cross into the box was terrible again conceding possession cheaply.
With the hour mark gone Johnson came on for Friend and within seconds Coulson had played in Tav whose shot curled in but just off the crossbar as Boro came the closest to scoring in what seemed like a lifetime. A let off via an incredible tap-in for Bamford somehow spun up and into the grateful arms of Pears. On 66 minutes Nmecha was then brought on for Saville which seemed strange as we needed some energy, vibrancy, pace and drive and yet Spence was left on the bench as we now went 442.
Nmecha won a corner on sixty-eight minutes when a run and cross was cut out. The corner was met by Shotton but deflected out for a second corner to Boro which was delivered back in to exactly the same spot in what must have been the only corner routine practised, no surprise then that Leeds read it and cleared. A break by Boro on seventy minutes played in Fletcher who chased and won a throw that was quickly taken and from that another partial chance was wasted as the ball was simply lofted into the arms of Casilla. Fletcher had obviously pulled or twisted something in winning the throw and was replaced by Britt with nineteen minutes remaining. Simultaneously Hernandez also went off with Shackleton coming on for Leeds.
Bielsa found himself the centre of attention after the Ref was alerted to some sort of altercation or more likely an opinion but on what seemed strange as nothing of note had occurred on the pitch. Shackleton fouled Johnson and as the ball was played out to Coulson he was surrounded by two Grey shirts and nibbling away at Coulson, Ayling managed to win the heart of Gavin Ward for presumably going down more creatively than Coulson just had.
Casilla punched clear from a Coulson cross and was required to be back in action a minute later to save a second time from Hayden on seventy-seven minutes. A run centrally by Wing ran into trouble, instead of releasing the ball to Assombalonga he tried taking it on his own, consequently Leeds broke and Harrison got a shot away going just wide once again highlighting the slow laboured Boro build up and the incisive style of Leeds. Moukoudi was then yellow carded as Ayling danced past three Red shirts on eighty one minutes and of course went down having clearly being shot by a South Stand sniper when the contact was minimal but it ate up some of those precious minutes.
As the eighty fifth minute ticked over Boro were now looking jaded and Leeds in game management mode and then as Coulson tried to beat both Shackleton and Ayling just outside the box they brought him down in Lewis Wing territory twenty yards out. The free kick came through as a decoy Boro wall ducked and as cries for hand ball went up Tav reacted quickest and his shot was deflected into the path of the diving Casilla. Clayts was then booked for going through ex-team mate Harrison allowing the away side another opportunity to slow things down as MMP announced “5 minutes added time”. At least this time he waited until the ball wasn’t right in front of Pears with Boro trying to clear.
Johnson was forced back into his own corner flag area surrounded by Grey shirts and incredibly nobody in Red made an opening for him. A minute later Bamford kindly fired a shot towards the away fans rather than towards Aynsley Pears with just two of those added minutes remaining. The away fans chorused a series of “ole’s” as their players now wasted time in the Boro half. The final whistle went as Boro had just launched a free kick aimlessly from Pears as we threw men forward in desperation to meet a non-existent ball that was once again another wasted free kick. In mitigation it was Pears’ only poor piece of play all night as he had otherwise had an excellent game. MOM for Boro was a joint one between Coulson and Shotton who to me had given their all. We were outclassed in long periods but at least we scrapped and battled but the question has to be where had that spirit been against Wigan, Luton and Barnsley?
“You’re going down” chorused and echoed from the away fans as the Riverside quickly emptied with disheartening results filtering in from elsewhere leaving Boro teetering on a three goal better goal difference above Wigan who were winning but still playing. Things were to get worse however with Wigan adding a late third to make that GD only two goals now. Barnsley beneath them were now only three points from us with Luton last four points behind.