‘SAVE our steel’ was the message issued ahead of the last meeting between this pair on Teesside, with ‘save our season’ rather more appropriate this time around for these old rivals.
A pre-match rescue act had arrived, of sorts, with Middlesbrough working slavishly to shift mounds of snow to get this fixture on and survive the Siberian-type conditions ravaging the country.
But grasping a play-off lifeline was at the forefront of the minds of rival managers Tony Pulis and Paul Heckingbottom ahead of kick-off.
March may now be underway, but both these sides had hitherto fought a losing battle with consistency so far in 2017-18, with their inability to beat sides around them in the promotion mix being particularly exposed.
Last night’s evidence suggests that Boro might be onto something at long last, with dispirited and disorganised Leeds, by contrast, looking a country mile away from top-six candidates on this bitter showing.
The visitors suffered their second successive heavy and hapless loss at the Riverside, a ground which had previously been fairly benevolent to them, with Boro’s strenuous efforts to get the game on being royally rewarded.
On United’s previous visit it was much-derided Italian defender Guiseppe Bellusci who endured the proverbial nightmare. Last night, the baton was passed on to underfire goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald, whose meek error for Boro’s killer second will have further sapped his fragile confidence levels.
But ultimately it was an evening that belonged to two players sure to have a major say in Boro’s possible play-off participation in Patrick Bamford and Adama Traore, who masterminded their best win of the season.
Bamford topped the bill with his first professional hat-trick – and first by a Boro player on Teesside since Afonso Alves achieved the feat in 2008.
Not far behind was the turbo-charged Traore, who displayed ample evidence of just why the hosts were so desperate to get his red card rescinded following last weekend’s Tees-Wear derby.
The jet-heeled winger had a hand in two home goals and, even though there was an element of offside about the hosts’ second and definitely the third, it would have been churlish for Leeds to complain given a welter of wider concerns.
The game was lost in five first-half minutes just after the half-hour when Bamford struck twice, with the second period being academic, gloss finally arriving when Boro’s in-form forward made it 3-0.
A raw evening may have seen most outfield players commendably show their mettle by donning short-sleeves, but the ones who walked the walk were wearing red.
Leeds lost countless battles and the upshot was an interval gradient to climb every bit as imposing as the snow-capped Cleveland Hills nearby.
The first two goals both possessed elements of quality, but were aided by defensive deficiencies, with the second being a damning moment for underfire Wiedwald.
With Leeds already trailing, Boro broke through the familiar shape of Traore, whose searing pace saw him carve through the Leeds midfield like a knife through butter before teeing up Bamford, whose low angled drive flew far too easily underneath the brittle goalkeeper.
It was an awful concession, with the case for the defence also underwhelming for the hosts’ opener although Bamford’s finish was top-drawer.
The Boro striker turned in an astute centre from Stewart Downing, who had been afforded too much space down the right.
Earlier, Leeds, chiefly through Samuel Saiz, who was off target with their best chance, had some sporadic elements of intent on the counter-attack, but hardly a surfeit.
But it was Boro who possessed the devilment through Traore and Bamford, allied to a set-piece threat.
Heckingbottom showed what he made of the first half by switching to 4-3-3 and sending on ex-Boro man Adam Forshaw and Ronaldo Vieira, but the fitful nature of his side’s defending continued with Wiedwald looking a ropey last line of defence.
Pontus Jansson, off target with a first-half header, repeated the trick before Bamford fired wide after Wiedwald flapped at Ryan Shotton’s booming long throw.
Boro sealed it midway through the half when Bamford, looking a yard offside, latched onto a low shot from Traore, deflected into his path off Jansson, before coolly steering past Wiedwald.
George Friend and Daniel Ayala went close to a fourth before time was called as Boro eased serenely to back-to-back home wins over Leeds for the first time since August 1980.
Middlesbrough: Randolph; Shotton, Gibson, Ayala, Friend; Besic, Leadbitter (Clayton 44); Traore, Howson, Downing; Bamford (Cranie 90).Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Fry, Baker, Harrison, Assombalonga.
Leeds United: Wiedwald; Anita, Cooper, Jansson, Berardi; O’Kane (Ekuban 69), Phillips (Vieira 45); Alioski (Forshaw 45), Dallas, Saiz; Lasogga. Unused substitutes: Peacock-Farrell, Pennington, De Bock, Sacko.
Referee: D England (South Yorkshire).