Main breaks Boro’s bad run and prompts United fans’ backlash

Middlesbrough 1 Leeds 0: The festival of Lent gets underway today with Leeds United in grave danger of giving up on their Championship play-off crusade following a crushing defeat on Teesside.

A looping header from young striker Curtis Main nine minutes from time earned Boro their first Riverside victory in 11 attempts against the Whites, whose travelling supporters rounded on manager Neil Warnock following the late setback.

It proved an eventful evening for Main, dismissed for his second caution of the game for deliberate handball six minutes after his match-winning strike.

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But Boro were not to be denied as they recorded their first win against United on Teesside since August 1992, with the ecstatic reaction of the home supporters at the final whistle in marked contrast to the rancour in the away end, with many Whites fans entering in a chorus of “Warnock, Warnock – time to go”.

While Tony Mowbray’s beleaguered Boro – who went into the game on their worst run of results in 13 years – deserved plaudits for an enterprising second-half display which yielded its reward after a low-key first period, United were left to reflect on a spasmodic performance.

Dominant in the first half, the visitors – inexplicably – retreated into their shells on the restart, with Warnock’s charges failing to breathe new life into his side.

To rub further salt into United’s wounds, it was one of Mowbray’s substitutes, Ishmael Miller, who played a decisive role in Main’s winner after delivering an inch-perfect cross.

Both Warnock and counterpart Mowbray have been the subject of some withering criticism from supporters at stages this winter, with the Boro boss going into the game feeling the chill more.

A dispiriting five-match losing streak had seen natives become increasingly restless on Teesside, mindful of Boro’s damaging New Year slump last year from automatic promotion contenders to scratching around for a play-off spot, which ultimately eluded them.

Style points have also been raised, with Mowbray’s patient, probing ‘tikka-takka’ brand increasingly currying little favour with Teessiders seeking a bit more substance and end product.

In contrast, a lack of artistic merit shown by his side has topped the chargesheet laid at the door of boss Warnock by some Whites fans and how the veteran manager will have hankered for a replication of their sunshine display at the Riverside last March, which yielded a polished 2-0 win and his first as Elland Road chief.

Despite Boro firing the first salvo with captain Rhys Williams hitting a downward volley wide following Grant Leadbitter’s pinpoint delivery, United soon acclimatised themselves amid surroundings which have brought out the best in them in recent seasons.

David Norris saw a well-struck effort fly just wide before the former Ipswich man tested the reactions of Jason Steele with a curled shot following a neat move with Ross McCormack at its fulcrum.

Boro lacked attacking teeth and nous and got small change out of United’s rearguard in the first half, with the home fans’ disquiet – fresh from a poor weekend home reverse to another Yorkshire side in Barnsley – soon obvious.

After knocking on the door, United spurned a great chance to hammer it down close to the half-hour mark with Steele – who made a couple of gaffes in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Tykes – presenting McCormack with a gift-wrapped opportunity.

A slip when coming out to collect a long ball let in the Scot, who briefly had a clear sight of goal, but his decision to steady himself before taking aim proved costly, with the backtracking Jonathan Woodgate blocking his effort on the line to deny his former club.

While not quite as dominant as during an outstanding opening half in the fixture last season, United were nevertheless in charge, although on the stroke of half-time, they were handed a warning when Boro carved out their most dangerous moment.

A fine defence-splitting pass from Josh McEachran put Faris Haroun in the clear, but instead of rounding the onrushing Paddy Kenny, the Belgian elected to hit a first-time shot, which was blocked by the visiting goalkeeper.

Perhaps emboldened by that moment, Boro started the second period with more purpose.

An improvised close-range effort from Main was blocked before Kenny and Tom Lees collided into each other following a ball into the box before the loose ball was cleared.

Paul Green just failed to get the finishing touch to a dangerous free-kick from McCormack after ghosting in before a break forward ended in Luke Varney firing over – with the moments of threat somewhat in isolation for Leeds.

Leadbitter then curled a free-kick wide before almost breaking the deadlock on 72 minutes.

His rasping low shot was parried by Kenny and after Stephen Warnock’s fine last-ditch challenge prevented Williams tucking in the rebound, the ball eventually found its way to McEachran, whose header was saved. Steve Morison then headed straight at Steele before Main fared better at the other end to send the hosts into raptures.

Warnock threw on El-Hadji Diouf and Rudy Austin six minutes from time, but it was a third replacement, Habib Habibou, who went closest to salvaging a leveller with his first touch, with his point-blank header tipped over in the 89th minute.

Middlesbrough: Steele; Parnaby, Woodgate (Halliday 66), Bikey, Friend; McEachran (Miller 74), Leadbitter, R Williams, Haroun; Main, Carayol (Bailey 88). Unused substitutes: Leutwiler, Bailey, Ledesma, Jutkiewicz, Smallwood.

Leeds United: Kenny; Byram, Lees, Peltier, Warnock; Green (Diouf 84), Norris (Austin 84), Brown (Habibou 89), Varney; McCormack, Morison. Unused substitutes: Ashdown, Pearce, White, Tonge.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).