EXPOSED to the elements after a rough week, Middlesbrough and Leeds United’s pre-match concerns had nothing to do with Storm Erik.
Sleep deprivation is likely to have been endured by Marcelo Bielsa and Tony Pulis following restless episodes against Norwich City and Newport County, respectively, but for the former at least a good night’s sleep will have been a blessing on Saturday.
A late, late leveller from Kalvin Phillips – in the ‘101st’ minute, no less – will have soothed Bielsa as will the sight of Leeds refusing to panic and staying strong in adversity to finish this Riverside meeting in high-velocity fashion.
Yet the news that young winger Jack Clarke had been released from hospital in Middlesbrough late on Saturday evening – after being taken ill on Leeds’s bench in the second half and receiving oxygen from paramedics amid worrying scenes and a near 10-minute delay – will have comforted the Argentinian the most.
For Pulis, whose players and staff endured a nightmare trip back from Newport in midweek – which saw them return to Teesside at 7am on Wednesday after a flight home from Cardiff Airport was cancelled – his own sleep is likely to have been interrupted again after Phillips’s galling late intervention.
It took the shine away from an encouraging Boro display that saw his side cast aside their Riverside labours with a strong attacking display for swathes of the first half, combined with a trademark doughty performance in the second period after taking a 47th-minute lead through Lewis Wing’s eye-catching opener.
But when the dust settles Pulis will have at least been handed solace with four points from two matches against promotion rivals West Brom and Leeds representing a healthy return heading into the final instalment of a crunch triple-header on Wednesday evening when Boro make the trip to Sheffield United.
Still, Saturday ultimately belonged at the finish to Leeds, whose haul of 15 Championship goals in the final 10 minutes of games, incorporating stoppage-time, is bettered only by Norwich.
Phillips’s goal represented a sweet moment for United’s 4,489 travelling contingent with any talk of Leeds’s possible demise being greatly exaggerated.
The recalled midfielder, who picked an opportune moment to notch his first league goal of the season – and net for the first time since the final day of last season – said: “You want to prove a lot of people wrong.
“There is a lot of stuff and obviously people do not like us, but it kind of motivates us to basically make a point to people and say we are the best team in the league.
“You want to be the top and be the best team in the league and, with the way we have been playing, I think we are the best team in this league. We have just had a few bad results recently.
“I think this result is a big confidence boost and, hopefully, we can go on another run now.”
As for his strike in the 11th minute of stoppage-time, he added: “I was a bit confused to be honest. There was so much extra time and it was a bit like, ‘when is the whistle going to actually go?’
“But the ball fell to me and I got the goal and it is a huge point.
“It is not just about me, but the team and we did brilliantly towards the end of the second half. It could have been three or four.”
The sight of a packed Riverside represented a welcome rewind for home patrons and, for once, this was a game that lived up to its billing.
After some early Leeds vim, Boro imposed themselves on proceedings with Kiko Casilla’s fine one-handed save to turn away George Saville’s strike helping to atone for his lame late concession against Norwich.
With John-Obi Mikel being the dominant midfield force on show and providing plenty of evidence to suggest that his addition is a very shrewd one, Boro’s offensive-minded players were handed a platform further forward.
Unfortunately their key chances mostly arrived to defenders.
Aden Flint, a player who scored nine goals for Bristol City last term, spurned two headed opportunities that were seemingly right up his street, and Ryan Shotton could not convert with the goal at his mercy following George Friend’s centre.
Saville went close again, but it was left to Wing to give Boro an unflattering lead early in the second half after probing play by Saville and Friend, with Mikel having initially started the move with a decisive challenge.
Rather than push on, Boro were content to sit on their gain, more especially when livewire Wing left the fray through injury.
Leeds – with Pablo Hernandez orchestrating matters – persisted and got stronger as the game went on, with Darren Randolph’s first meaningful action seeing him make a wonderful double-save to thwart Kemar Roofe.
The tide was turning with Pontus Jansson’s fine glancing header soon striking a post.
Ex-Boro forward Patrick Bamford – who had an inauspicious Riverside return – placed the rebound wide.
The long delay did not distract Leeds and their moment finally arrived when Liam Cooper headed Gianni Alioski’s corner back into the danger area and Phillips escaped Flint to nod in.
On a tough finale, Mikel said: “We have to keep going, we have a very good team with a very good manager who we all believe in.
“We know we have three massive games in a row. Two are out of the way, and we have one more.
“It is a good sign when you look at the last two and we have got four points from those games. It is a good mentality to have by looking at it that way.”