Leeds United rampant but miserable Middlesbrough pose no threat

Patrick Bamford's goal against his former club set the ball rolling for Leeds United
Patrick Bamford's goal against his former club set the ball rolling for Leeds United
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Just for a moment there was a faint possibility that a Leeds United defender might be under threat. But once the over-exuberant supporter approached Luke Ayling, he gave him a hug, before being dragged off the field by the stewards.

“You should have gone Christmas shopping,” the Elland Road fans chanted at their visitors from Middlesbrough. They had a point.

Whilst it took until the second half fo, Leeds prised open the floodgates against a Boro side who have been showing greater signs of solidity recently.

In scoring four for the first time since March. Their parsimonious run looks well and truly at an end.

The Whites look to be hitting their stride at a very good time. For Jonathan Woodgate's Boro it was very worrying indeed.

They actually weathered the initial 15-minute storm, but it was only a temporary reprieve.

In midweek Ben White had been the centre-back bombing forward at will, but this time Leeds's lop-sided back three gave Ayling, effectively at right-back, the freedom to attack and hue curled two shots narrowly wide in the first ten minutes, the second of them from the inside-left channel.

Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford are in good form at the moment, so it was no surprise the hosts were at their most threatening when the pair combined. Aynsley Pears spilled Bamford's header from the former's third-minute cross but when Pablo Hernandez put the ball back in, he found the net against his old club. Practice makes perfect.

When Bamford forced Pears into a stretching save three minutes later, Woodgate's side looked overwhelmed.

Leeds goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, by comparison, was brimming with confidence, showing a composed touch to play the ball around in the corner flag as the imposing figure of Britt Assombalonga charged him down, then taking the ball around Ashley Fletcher to the delight of the crowd.

Boro, though, were able to clear their heads and in the 12th minutes they even posed a threat at Casilla's end, Lewis Wing dragging a shot wide after George Saville's shot was blocked.

The game settled into a bit of a stupor, with Leeds having 71 per cent of the first-half possession but their threat becalmed, but there was still something simmering below the surface. Kavlin Phillips's tackle on Dael Fry was badly-timed in more than one sense, earning him a fifth Championship yellow card of the season and a suspension on the final weekend before the slate is wiped clean. Paddy McNair will also be banned after pulling Hernandez's shirt. It could have been worse, kicking the ball out of Bamford's grasp as he tried to take a quick free-kick.

In that period Bamford was also booked for handling a through-ball, though referee Keith Stroud did well to let play carry on for a couple of minutes before brandishing the card.

Leeds do not tend to put their opponents to the sword in the way their football always deserved, but from a Boro perspective, keeping them at arm's length forever seemed untenable and in the fourth added minute of the first half, Mateusz Klich effectively settled the game.

Bamford made a good run onto Harrison's long pass and when he tried to turn the ball inside he got lucky, ricocheting off Daniel Ayla into the path of the Polish midfielder to find the net.

From there it became a question of how many, and for once, Leeds were baring their teeth.

Pears had to palm a Harrison shot away from goal after a Dallas cross in the 50th minute, and when the Northern Ireland international played an excellent reverse pass to Bamford, he turned inside but was unable to finish. As Helder Costa had his shot blocked from an excellent ball down the line from Harrison on the hour, you knew Leeds were going to win, but wondered if they might let their opponents off lightly. They did not.

Costa's determination brought the third goal, forcing his way through in the 68th minute, then producing a neat finish. Hernandez curled in a beautiful goal when Phillips and Klich played a short corner to him.

From there it was ole football, taunts from the terraces and one eye on bigger challenges to come.

When Phillips was withdrawn, centre-back White was given a ten-minute audition for his holding midfield role. It was hard to judge him against a weak Boro starting XI and even more anaemic bench, but no Leeds fan was complaining on the way home. For the second time this week, they are back on top of the Championship.

Leeds United: Casilla; Ayling, White Cooper; Phillips (Berardi 83); Klich, Dallas Hernandez; Costa (Alioski 76), Bamford (Nketiah 79), Harrison.

Unused substitutes: Douglas, Miazek, Clarke, Stevens.

Middlesbrough: Pears; McNair, Ayala, Fry; Howson, Wing (Liddle 70), Tavernier, Saville, Bola; Fletcher (Walker 90), Assombalonga (O'Neil, 77).

Unused substitutes: Meijas, Clayton, Wood, Reading.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).