Boro made six changes from the side that drew 1-1 at Birmingham with midweek goal-scorer Patrick Bamford surprisingly left on the bench.
As first halves go though, they don’t start much better than this one did. Boro suffered an early set back and found themselves behind after just three minutes. A poor throw out by stand in Keeper Mejias was cut out by Cook who skipped past Leadbitter and darted to the edge of the box to square for Mowatt who fired in a low shot that deflected off a sliding tackle.
This didn’t dent Boro’s confidence though as they were quickly back on the attack and soon had Leeds pinned in their own box. They had a great chance soon after Leeds scored when Leadbitters free kick found an unmarked Jelle Vossen, he took a swing but missed completely and then the loose ball was scrambled away.
Boro continued to press forward in numbers but that left space at the back and Leeds threatened on a couple of occasions of adding a second when on the counter attack.
Boro’s pressure almost paid off and they nearly snatched a freak equaliser on 43 minutes as Vossen played a ball into Kike’s path as he burst into the box it clipped his shin and went just wide. Then on the stroke of half-time Kike wriggled into the box and fired under the keeper and against the post but the flag was already up.
As the first half came to a close Leeds had a chance to finish the half as they had started but Bamba’s header from a corner was well wide.
Boro started the second half intent on scoring but it was Leeds who almost grabbed a second on 48 minutes as Murphy’s free kick found Wootten but he could only head the ball against the bar.
Boro kept on picking their way to the edge of the Leeds box but couldn’t breakthrough a resilient Leeds defence in the final third.
On 66 minutes Boro bought on Patrick Bamford and the striker was quickly in action, laying back an Adomah cross for Vossen to fire in a low shot that brought a diving save from Silvestri then from the corner Friend sliced wide. Boro carved out a golden chance on 68 minutes as Bamford back-heeled an Adomah ball and Vossen pushed it on into the box and Kike skipped through to stab in a shot that was blocked by Bamba.
The Boro pressure continued and Leeds started to look a bit shaky as Boro switched to a 4-2-4 but the deserved equaliser just wouldn’t come and it looked even unlikelier as they went down to ten men. A head injury to the impressive Vossen led to a near six minute delay in the game whilst help was administered to him in the centre circle before he was stretchered off. This left ‘Boro with only 10 men on the field as they’d used all available substitutes at this point.
Even with ten men Boro continued to make chances and Kike sent Adomah down the right to cross in and Friend’s header was deflected over for a corner. Neat work by Bamford after a scramble won another corner and even Mejias came up and almost got a touch to it.
When the final whistle came after 10 minutes of added time came it must have been a huge relief to all the Leeds players especially goalkeeper Marco Silvestri who had the game of his life.
Could this blip in form for Middlesbrough be down to the distraction of playing Arsenal in the FA cup a week ago?
Precision and Movement
Looking at the cold numbers how could Middlesbrough not have scored! A shot ratio of 77%, indicated total dominance (27 of the 35 shots) and would have been the 1st indicator used for an easy victory. They were affective at creating chances however could only manage 37% on target and only won 22% of the rebounds from shots taken.
Leeds were always going to be frugal, they have only conceded two goals in their last six games. To often the final ball was just behind or to the strikers weaker foot, giving the aggressive Leeds defence the split second they needed. Middlesbrough convert their possession well into final third entries but often chose crosses to final balls. Attempting 50 crosses but could only completed 28%.
Possession for the sake of possession seems to be a theme we are seeing, with gorilla tactics winning a number of high stake games. Leeds were very comfortable dealing with the limited movement of the Middlesbrough forwards and and forced midfield passes often leading to errors and too many offside decisions being given against them, creating easy turnovers.
72% of the shots were taken in the central zone, with the majority being long range efforts from outside the box.