Leeds United 2 Middlesbrough 1: McCormack fires Whites to Boro win

Leeds United's Ross McCormack.
Leeds United's Ross McCormack.
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ROSS McCORMACK’S seventh goal in three matches against the side who were so desperate to sign him in the summer helped Leeds United secure a hat-trick of league wins for their first time under Brian McDermott.

Seeking their fourth straight home win in front of a bumper Elland Road crowd of 30,367, United were full value for victory against visitors, who did their cause no good whatsoever by shooting themselves in the foot in the 42nd minute, courtesy of a crazy dismissal for keeper Jason Steele.

The Boro custodian injudiciously raced out of goal to haul down Dexter Blackstock after slack defensive play from the Teessiders, with referee Philip Gibbs having no option but to dismiss him.

Seven minutes earlier, McCormack -whose strike had a certain ring of inevitably to it - had been on hand to nod home an opener from close range with Boro again not helping their cause with some slack defending.

Ten-man Boro did manage to stun the majority of Elland Road by grabbing a shock leveller on 52 minutes from Muzzy Carayol, but five minutes later, Jason Pearce powered home a header to settle the issue.

United, in the box seat before Steele’s dismissal, were the dominant force against the Teessiders, in Aitor Karanka’s first match in charge.

The Basque may have been making his bow in the dug-out, but the same defensive ailments that afflicted Boro and which ultimately proved so costly for his predecessor Tony Mowbray, who was sacked last month, flared up again.

Before the game, the late Gary Speed was honoured by the club, with fans also paying tribute in the 11th minute with a resounding chorus of “Oh, Gary, Gary Speed.”

Leeds, who made two changes with Alex Mowatt and Marius Zaliukas replacing Michael Brown and Scott Wootton, had the first chance to drew first blood and it fell to their most potent outlet in McCormack.

Feeling no effects of the hamstring niggle which forced him to pull out of the Scotland squad for their friendly win in Molde on Tuesday, McCormack - subject of three failed bids from Boro in August - headed wide after latching onto a downward volley from Mowatt.

Slowly but surely, Boro started to have a say on proceedings, with wingmen Albert Adomah and Muzzy Carayol looking lively in stages, but the Teessiders still failed to significantly trouble Paddy Kenny.

Ex-Whites favourite Jonathan Woodgate headed wide at the far post from a deep Grant Leadbitter corner, but it tamely flew into the massed ranks in the Kop.

United gradually built up a head of steam and started to dominate proceedings, with Rudy Austin’s 25-yarder beaten away by Steele before McCormack wasted a free-kick opportunity after a handball from Richardson very close to being inside the penalty area.

The rebound broke to the Scot, who was then challenged, somewhat untidily, by Marvin Enmes, but Gibbs was unmoved, despite the United top-scorer’s vehement protestations that it should have been a spot-kick.

Then, 23 minutes in, United spurned a gilt-edged chance to take the lead.

McCormack’s cross on the right, with Boro’s defence stretchered, found Blackstock six yards out with the goal at his mercy, but his contrived to steer his effort wide of the gaping goal.

At the other end, Leadbitter’s free-kick was blocked before the reactions of Steele at the near post saved Boro after he turned away a fiercely-struck shot from Danny Pugh.

The respite wasn’t long from the Teessiders and after a corner wasn’t cleared, Austin’s cross was latched onto Tom Lees, who rose above George Friend with his header across goal nodded in by lurking McCormack, who showed predatory prowess before milking the goal in front of the 2,600 Boro travelling contingent.

Things then went from bad to worse for Boro a few minutes before half-time when Austin cashed in on a terrible header from Danny Ayala before heading the ball in the direction of Blackstock, with Steele slow to spot the danger before racing out and felling the loan striker with a reckless challenge.

The keeper was handed his marching orders, with sub keeper Jayson Leutwiler soon coming on for the ineffectual Emnes.

It looked like the longest of second periods for Boro, only for the Teessiders to somehow conjuring a leveller seven minutes into the second half.

Slow out of the traps on the restart, United paid the price with Adomah racing away down the right before sending over a fine cross, with Carayol showing the instincts of a striker to clinically turn the ball home impressively for a shock leveller.

Stirred into life following a sluggish opening, Leeds upped the gas again with Mowatt’s low shot bringing out an excellent one-handed save by Leutwiler.

From the resulting corner, United went in front.

Lee Peltier manufactured enough space down the right to send over an inviting cross with Pearce outjumping ex-United man Frazer Richardson to head in his first goal of the campaign.

United went close to wrapping it up 18 minutes from time when Mowatt, who again added to his burgeoning reputation with another impressive display, arrived on cue in the box following a fine cross from another home player who had an eye-catching game in Pugh.

But Leutwiler blocked his effort, with Austin putting a chance wide to seal it soon after.

Despite United struggling to wrap the game up, Boro with a man light but afforded a fair bit of possession, struggled to get behind the home defence as United maintained their late-autumn momentum with another three-point haul.

Boro had one half chance in stoppage time, but sub Jutkiewicz’s effort was comfortably held by Kenny.

At the other end, Austin fired into the side-netting before Mowatt struck a shot over the top, but the points were Leeds.

Leeds United: Kenny; Lees, Zaliukas; Pearce; Peltier, Murphy (Brown 88), Austin, Mowatt, Pugh (Byram 81); McCormack, Blackstock (Smith 81). Unused subs: Cairns, Varney, Tonge, Poleon.

Middlesbrough: Steele; Richardson, Woodgate, Ayala, Friend; Leadbitter, Smallwood (Jutkiewicz 82); Adomah, Emnes (Leutwiler 42), Carayol (Main 67); Kamara. Unused substitutes: Williams, Butterfield, Whitehead, Gibson.

Attendance: 30,367.