Middlesbrough 0 Leeds Utd 1: United show resolve as Boro finally breached

Marco Silvestri dives to push aside an effort from Middlesbrough's Kike, one of several fine saves Leeds United's goalkeeper pulled off as Neil Redfearn's men got the better of Aitor Karanka's team 1-0 with an early strike from Alex Mowatt (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Marco Silvestri dives to push aside an effort from Middlesbrough's Kike, one of several fine saves Leeds United's goalkeeper pulled off as Neil Redfearn's men got the better of Aitor Karanka's team 1-0 with an early strike from Alex Mowatt (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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THEY know plenty about iron and steel on Teesside, with the industry once providing the lifeblood of the area.

On the football field, too, those qualities have been shown over the years by Middlesbrough FC, who produced a song entitled Men of Iron during their successful promotion to the top flight under Bruce Rioch in 1987-88.

The present-day Boro are seeking to complete an identical mission, but on Saturday at least, it was Leeds United who were the hardy ones not to be moved.

On an afternoon when table-topping Boro could have temporarily gone four points clear at the Championship summit, Neil Redfearn’s side clocked in and worked overtime in an exhausting shift to chisel out a victory remarkable in its own way.

For large spells of the first half after Alex Mowatt struck a third-minute opener, Leeds were hemmed in by Boro with their goalmouth peppered, and the pattern continued on the restart.

All told, Boro produced 27 efforts on goal, 10 on target and they forced 18 corners.

The Leeds of two months ago would almost certainly have been blown away amid that storm, but times they are a changin’.

Leeds were resolute – magnificently so at times – organised and collectively water-tight en route to a fifth win in six matches.

It was all a far cry from their last trip to an automatic promotion chaser in Derby to end 2014, when their feeble performance was the polar opposite to this sturdy display of substance.

Watching in the stands was special guest for the day Jack Charlton, a figure loved by Leeds and Boro fans alike, and while a draw might have been his preferred outcome, he would have admired United’s resolve.

Almost 40 years to the day, Charlton’s former Leeds team-mates had shown those same qualities in chiselling out a 1-0 win at Ayresome Park on February 22, 1975. The likes of Norman Hunter and Paul Madeley repelled everything that Charlton’s Boro could muster on that afternoon and several superb performances also got Leeds over the line this time around.

Goaleeper Marco Silvestri produced a handful of smart saves and Sol Bamba produced a true captain’s performance.

The Frenchman is already showing signs of turning into a cult hero at Elland Road and his display at the heart of the Leeds back four was simply immense.

Bamba conducted his after-match press interviews while carrying a copy of Sol Campbell’s autobiography – the former England defender would have been impressed by his performance if he had tuned in to watch.

For Bamba, it is about making up for lost time after a difficult spell in Italy at Palermo. While he is just a month into his Leeds adventure, he would dearly love to stay for the longer-term.

He said: “I could not ask for any more. I have come back to a big club like Leeds in a league I know, playing in front of thousands of people. Hopefully, I can stay many more years.

“Mathematically, the play-offs are possible and we are going to fight for it and we just have to keep winning games and see where that takes us.”

On his choice of literature, he added: “I liked to read books and he (Campbell) used to be a very, very good player and I looked up to him. I am not sure if I am at that level yet, but I try to be.

“Him and (Lilian) Thuram for me are two of the best defenders.”

For Boro, it was a tough day at the Riverside office once more against Leeds, who have lost just once in 13 visits to the venue.

The best news of the day for the Teessiders actually arrived just under three hours following the final whistle, when news of defeats for promotion rivals Bournemouth and Ipswich filtered through.

It softened the blow slightly of earlier events – and surely better to have a setback in late February than in late March or April.

With trips to Derby, Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford still to come, Boro can ill-afford any more slip-ups at home, an imposing arena until Leeds breached the garrison – becoming the first side to triumph on Teesside since August 30.

Mowatt’s opener came after a poorly-judged throw from Tomas Mejias, which landed at the feet of Lewis Cook, who swiftly raced forward to set up his fellow teenager, who powered the ball home low past the Boro goalkeeper.

To their credit, Boro shrugged off the blow and dominated much of the rest of the half, with Jelle Vossen going close to a leveller on several occasions and Kike and ex-United midfielder Adam Clayton also denied by Silvestri.

Yet it was not all one-way traffic with Leeds nearly adding a second just before the break when Bamba headed glaringly off target and, early in the second half, Scott Wootton headed against the bar.

But Boro’s bombardment continued with Kike, Albert Adomah and Vossen thwarted.

Tellingly, as the minutes elapsed, so the hosts’ frustration grew, with Leeds finishing the game the stronger.

Boro may be hoping to see the back of Leeds for a few years. But time will tell on that count.