Leeds United 0 Middlesbrough 0: Honours even as Whites and Boro enter break locked at the top

Ryan Shotton comes in hard on Ezgjan Alioski at Elland Road.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Ryan Shotton comes in hard on Ezgjan Alioski at Elland Road. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
0
Have your say

RARELY has Marcelo Bielsa looked as agitated as this.

In his first month at the helm of Leeds United, the Argentinian has barely moved from his usual vantage point sitting atop a bucket on the touchline.

Daniel Ayala appears to block and bring down Kemar Roofe.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Daniel Ayala appears to block and bring down Kemar Roofe. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Any instructions needing to be relayed to the United players have come from his coaching staff. So, too, have any protests to the officials when a decision has gone against the Elland Road club.

Last night, however, Bielsa’s demeanour couldn’t have been more contrasting with the 63-year-old up and out of his seat more times than in the first five league fixtures put together.

Sometimes, the Leeds chief would follow this with a quick pace around the technical area in a manner more reminiscent of an expectant father waiting outside the delivery room.

Middlesbrough’s tactics, clearly designed to shackle their hosts, explained Bielsa’s agitation on the sidelines.

Last night, however, Bielsa’s demeanour couldn’t have been more contrasting with the 63-year-old up and out of his seat more times than in the first five league fixtures put together.

Richard Sutcliffe

Tony Pulis had set his side up with the clear intention of stifling the slick passing game that had taken Leeds to the top of the Championship and earned the West Riding club a host of plaudits.

With both wing backs clearly told to tuck in, the visitors’ defence was akin to a towering five man backline for long periods.

A busy display from Adam Clayton in midfield only added to the impenetrable wall of red that Leeds spent most of the night trying – and mostly failing – to pass their way through.

No wonder Bielsa’s usually cool touchline manner had been ditched on a night when Bailey Peacock-Farrell was the busier of the two goalkeepers.

Ezgjan Alioski finds his route to goal blocked at Elland Road.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Ezgjan Alioski finds his route to goal blocked at Elland Road. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Still, come the final whistle and with honours having ended even, the home fans in a 35,417 crowd did have the satisfaction of being able to chant, ‘We’re Leeds United, we’re top of the league’.

The draw means both these sides will spend the first international break of the season occupying the two automatic promotion places on 14 points apiece.

This, of course, can only be a positive thing. Whether it also offers a useful guide as to what the rest of the season will bring at both Elland Road and the Riverside remains to be seen.

Last season, for instance, Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers went into the first fortnight break sitting pretty in first and third place respectively. Both are now plying their trade in the Premier League.

A cautionary tale about getting too carried away, however, comes with the identity of the other two clubs in the top four as September got under way a year ago with Ipswich Town and Leeds United having faded away to mid-table mediocrity long before the season’s prizes were being handed out.

Reading too much into this contest is also difficult. The all-Yorkshire clash was billed as a clash between two contrasting styles, as the free-flowing football of Bielsa went head-to-head with the more pragmatic approach favoured by Pulis.

In the end, though, the contest was more akin to a game of chess as the two combatants moved and counter-moved in an attempt to gain an advantage.

That Boro did not have the satisfaction of declaring ‘checkmate’ come the final whistle was down to Peacock-Farrell, who pulled off two fine saves in the first half and then denied Daniel Ayala at the death.

His first stop to deny a 20-yard effort from Jonny Howson was impressive. The second, however, from the resulting corner was even better with Ayala’s header from point blank range seeming destined for the net from the moment it left his head.

To follow that with another vital block in stoppage time from Ayala, together with the safe handling Peacock-Farrell displayed despite being jostled at every set-piece by a sea of red shirts, underlined just how much the young goalkeeper has come of age under Bielsa.

As for Leeds, their best effort of the opening 45 minutes came when Luke Ayling met a Barry Douglas corner and Clayton hacked the ball to safety from just in front of the goal-line.

Chances proved equally hard to come by for the hosts after the restart, Jack Harrison curling an effort just past the post and Samuel Saiz having a shot blocked.

Boro did offer more of a threat, particularly late on with Ayala’s late chance being preceded by a succession of corners and set-pieces that meant the home goal came under intense pressure.

This prompted one last wander around his technical area from Bielsa and a haranguing of the fourth official in an attempt to get defender Pontus Jansson into the fray to repel the aerial bombardment.

Come the final whistle, however, Leeds did have the satisfaction of heading into the break sitting on top of the Championship as both sides left the field to a warm ovation from the crowd.

Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell; Ayling, Berardi (Jansson 87), Cooper, Douglas; Phillips; Harrison (Dallas 90), Klich, Saiz, Alioski; Roofe (Bamford 89). Unused substitutes: Blackman, Roberts, Pearce, Baker.

Middlesbrough: Randolph; Flint, Fry, Ayala; Shotton, Clayton, Howson, Besic, Friend; Downing, Assombalonga. Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Leadbitter, Hugill Braithwaite, McQueen, McNair, Wing.

Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).