Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 0: Faint promotion hopes fade for Yorkshire rivals

Leeds United's Ross McCormack challenges for the ball alongside Middlesbrough's Grant Leadbitter, (left), and Nathaniel Chalobah, (right).
Leeds United's Ross McCormack challenges for the ball alongside Middlesbrough's Grant Leadbitter, (left), and Nathaniel Chalobah, (right).
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A BORE of a stalemate saw the slim play-off prospects of both Leeds United and Boro recede further in a grim TV spectacle.

The only noteworthy episode in the game saw the Teessiders make an unwanted entry into the record books after extending their goal drought to almost ten-and-a-half hours, with Aitor Karanka’s side having now not found the net in almost seven games since January 18.

For United’s travelling support of 3,211, there was precious little to shout about on a day when prospective new owner Massimo Cellino was in attendance on Teesside as both sides played out their fourth 0-0 draw at the Riverside since the stadium opened in the mid-nineties.

Brian McDermott pledged that Leeds would go out on the attack, but in the event, United produced an inhibited display low on quality and chances.

It was a scrappy spectacle, with Boro carving out the best opportunities, without showing too much attacking competence over the ninety minutes, and feeling more entitled to be aggrieved with a point.

The closest to a goal arrived 11 minutes from time when substitute Albert Adomah was sent clear by a precision pass from fellow sub Emmanuel Ledesma, but debutant Jack Butland showed his international class to race out and make a splendid block.

The hosts’ other best moment also arrived at the feet of Adomah, who blazed over in stoppage-time following Nathaniel Chalobah’s pass.

Head coach Karanka fired a broadside in the direction of his players after their limp performance at Watford last time out and made a number of significant - and surprising - changes to his starting line-up in a bid to yield a response.

Top-scorer Adomah was dropped to the bench, while fellow winger Mustapha Carayol wasn’t even afforded a place in the matchday squad.

Kenneth Omeruo, in for the suspended Ben Gibson, partnered ex-United favourite Jonathan Woodgate in the heart of the Boro defence for the first time with Curtis Main, who scored the only goal in the clash at the Riverside last term, recalled.

Leeds, facing their first game in 12 days, made five changes, with the two major ones seeing loan recruit Jack Butland handed his bow in place of the injured Paddy Kenny and Noel Hunt return to the line-up and make his first start since October 5.

Scott Wootton came in for Tom Lees, with Cameron Stewart and Lee Peltier also starting, with Alex Mowatt on the bench and Sam Bryam out with a hamstring problem.

Despite the raft of changes on both sides, the main pre-match talking point was the presence of Cellino, spotted outside the Riverside in the build-up to kick-off.

On it, it was Boro, playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Kei Kamara and Curtis Main the wide-sided attackers and Bradford-born Jacob Butterfield just behind lone frontman Danny Graham, who started the brighter.

A scuffed early pot-shot from Kamara was dragged wide before the Sierra Leone-born frontman then headed over following Grant Leadbitter’s corner.

Leeds struggled to get a foothold in the game in the opening 15 minutes but eventually starting to impose themselves.

Their first threatening moment arrived in the 17th minute when neat work by Wootton and Jimmy Kebe supplied Cameron Stewart in space down the left and his teasing cross just evaded Hunt in the six-yard box.

A full-stretch Stewart then just failed to get on the end of Peltier’s deep cross, while at the other end, Boro’s early momentum tapered off.

In a half on genuine quality, Leeds edged proceedings, but struggled to string together worthwhile chances, with one finally arriving on 40 minutes.

It ended with Luke Murphy firing a stinging low shot just wide of the left-hand post of Shay Given, making his final appearance for the Teessiders before returning to parent club Aston Villa.

Boro finally awoke from their slumber to piece together their best opportunity of the half just before the break, with Leadbitter’s corner half-cleared to Butterfield, who took aim with a well-struck rising shot, which was tipped over by Butland.

The first significant action on the restart saw Stephen Warnock cause momentary alarm when he diverted a dangerous cross from full-back Geroge Friend - Boro’s best attacker - towards his own goal, but an alert Butland saved the day.

Another close shave soon arrived with Graham’s acrobatic effort was blocked after Kamara failed to get a clean connection on the ball as Boro pressed.

The game was, belatedly, showing signs of opening up at long last, with Boro fans finally warming to their side’s offensive efforts after a tame first half.

Graham was to next to show on the hour, firing an effort over before Aitor Karanka played his first card in bringing on transfer deadline-day arrival Lee Tomlin on for his debut with Kamara coming off.

Just prior to that, Main saw an effort fly of target after a sweeping pass from Leadbitter with Leeds continuing to look subdued at the other end of the pitch and struggling to piece together anything worthwhile.

Adomah then entered the fray for the hosts before the hitherto quiet Ross McCormack conjured up a moment of menace from Leeds, with his speculative shot flying wide.

Ex-Bristol City wingman Adomah almost made the perfect impact seven minutes later with Boro’s best opportunity.

He raced clear following Ledesma’s pass, but Butland came out to deny him impressively.

Giant striker Matt Smith made his appearance on 82 minutes, with United’s fans cajoling their side to go on the offensive after a quiet second period.

But the closest moment to a winer arrived from Boro with Leadbitter firing over after an attack down the left before no home player managed to get on the end on an inviting cross from Adomah, who spurned an opportunity at the death.

Middlesbrough: Given; Varga, Woodgate, Omeruo, Friend; Chalobah, Leadbitter; Main (Adomah 72), Butterfield (Ledesma 77), Kamara (Tomlin 67); Graham. Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Whitehead, Morris, Atkinson.

Leeds United: Butland; Peltier, Wootton, Pearce, Warnock; Kebe, Austin, Murphy, Stewart; McCormack, Hunt (Smith 82). subs: Cairns, Poleon, Brown, Tonge, Mowatt, Zaliukas.

Referee: A Taylor (Wythenshawe).

Attendance: 20,424 (3,211 Leeds supporters).