It felt like it had been coming, but the way Middlesbrough meekly played the role of Elland Road stooges made you wonder if they and Leeds United might be two divisions apart next season.
”We needed goals,” reflected Leeds midfielder Mateusz Klich, who could just have easily have said “I”. He got two, his team got four.
“In games we have created chances but couldn’t find the net. I think that was the only area of our game that has been missing.”
It is more than their five wins out of five which has made November look like a significant month for Leeds. It had been offering chinks of light to Boro too, until the 4-0 drubbing which flattered them more than their hosts.
Of the five wins, Leeds have scored more than once in four of them. Given that they had not done so in any of the preceding seven games, that was important.
As half-time approached, it was starting to look very Leeds. They had 71 per cent of possession, attacked with verve from Luke Ayling, the right-back in a lop-sided back three to Jack Harrison, brilliant despite often being left to his own devices on the opposite flank.
Leeds had bombarded the Boro goal in the first 15 minutes, but let them off the hook after Patrick Bamford opened the scoring just three minutes in, given a second bite of the cherry after Aynsley Pears spilt his first header.
Manager Jonathan Woodgate called it a “killer”, a “poor goal to concede, it’s poor defending” but the real body blow was the second.
All over the place in the early stages, Boro’s much-depleted side was starting to show a bit of the Teesside steel they had been hinting at in their last six matches – four drawn and the most recent won. They did not look like scoring themselves, but at least they were plugging the leaks.
Yet as soon as Klich found the net, Bamford’s cross fortuitously bouncing into his path, they crumbled altogether.
Last season I scored 10 goals and got nine assists and had the best season of my life, but we didn’t go up so I would change it for just two goals and two assists but playing in the Premier League.Mateusz Klich
“It does become difficult when you’re 2-0 down going into half-time and it’s difficult to get back in the game,” commented Woodgate, but surely no one seriously thought Boro would do that.
With a bench that made it look like Woodgate was moonlighting as a babysitter, Boro’s best hope was that Leeds would take their foot off the gas, but their hunger for goals was refreshing. They even scored one from a short corner, after the first Championship goal of Helder Costa’s season-long loan.
“I hoped there would be more than four goals but three points is three points,” admitted Klich afterwards. Another for him would have been particularly special having beautifully finished the set-piece Kalvin Phillips and Pablo Hernandez worked to him.
“I was trying for the hat-trick because I have never scored one before,” he revealed. “I don’t really care about my own performances as long as we are winning because last season I scored 10 goals and got nine assists and had the best season of my life, but we didn’t go up so I would change it for just two goals and two assists but playing in the Premier League.”
Leeds’s Oliver Twist-like desire for more was refreshing.
“We didn’t want to wait for the winning goal like at Reading or Luton,” Klich pointed out. “We scored very early and it’s always better to play when you score early.
“Last season we had seven (wins) in a row and this season we want to go better so let’s see.”
If Marcelo Bielsa went nit-picking in his post-match assessment, Woodgate was scrambling around for positives. He praised Britt Assombalonga and Paddy McNair for playing when not fully fit, pointed to eight academy players (sadly, you do not get extra points for that) and above all talked up Leeds as the Championship’s best side.
What Boro need now is character. Their hosts next Saturday, Charlton Athletic, are in much poorer form, so a young side cannot take their disappointment to heart.
“I firmly believe this squad we’ve got – we’ve got lads to come back from injury as well – will have enough,” insisted former Leeds midfielder Jonny Howson. “It’s part and parcel not just of football, but life, that you will have to go through tough times. Tough people will survive it and I believe we’ve got tough people in the dressing room and on the staff.
“Of course my experience can help but the young lads can help the others out too because they play without fear. They’re probably more concentrated with making their debut or just starting out, whatever it might be.
“I’m not just saying this, but this is a better atmosphere. We’re disappointed at not getting the wins and in losing games but as a team we’re sticking together, working for each other and staying on the right side of each other.
“We start the week with everyone ready to go again. That’s probably been different to when I have been in positions like this in the past.”
Boro badly need Howson’s words to be put into action. Leeds just need to keep the snowball moving.