Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 0: Tale of two goalkeepers as Boro set unwanted blank sheet record

Prospective Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino.Prospective Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino.
Prospective Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino.
LENT may not begin for another nine days, but you suspect many Middlesbrough and Leeds United fans may have already given up something.

Namely their aspirations to reach the Championship play-offs for another season, with two of the inaugural members of the Premier League in 1992-93 increasingly having only their memories of better times to console them in the present.

The Boro faithful were handed a reminder of their finest hour ahead of kick-off with supporters in the South Stand unveiling 11 banners bearing the names and numbers of the team that started the 2004 Carling Cup final – 10 years ago this week.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Still on the nostalgia theme, the pre-match introduction of Jack Charlton and Alan Peacock also offered a sentimental rewind to a more glorious era to both sets of fans.

Leeds United's Jimmy Kebe, moves in on Middlesbrough's George Friend.Leeds United's Jimmy Kebe, moves in on Middlesbrough's George Friend.
Leeds United's Jimmy Kebe, moves in on Middlesbrough's George Friend.

Memories aplenty, but as for the here and now, there was not much, although Leeds fans were given a potential glimpse of the future in the presence of prospective new owner Massimo Cellino.

Classy on-pitch contributions were minimal, with the only one coming from a player who had completed one training session with his new club in loan goalkeeper Jack Butland.

The Bristolian, brought in from Stoke City, left the Riverside deservedly clutching the man-of-the-match award.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He was not exactly overworked, but when called upon he did not blink. More is the pity Leeds could not replicate his poise and class at the other end.

Butland has arrived at Leeds with international and not just club business in mind, namely clinching a seat on the plane with England for this summer’s World Cup. He is battling the likes of Fraser Forster, John Ruddy and Ben Foster to accompany Joe Hart to Brazil.

He certainly went about things the right way on Saturday, showing no rustiness in his first game in just over a month.

Butland, who made key saves to deny Jacob Butterfield and substitute Albert Adomah, said: “The summer is obviously a massive target and I’d love to be able to go to a World Cup. It’s obviously been a dream of mine.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“But it is only possible if I am playing regularly and playing well. If I am playing, I have a chance – if not, then I’ll be out.”

On his maiden United performance, he added: “I think the one with Adomah in the second half was my best save, definitely. I made the one in the first half look a little bit special because the cameras were here. But I am really pleased and couldn’t have asked for a better way to start really.”

While Butland instantly endeared himself to his new team, counterpart Shay Given bade his farewells following a distinguished three-month stay, fittingly accompanied by another clean sheet, his 10th in 16 games for Boro.

It was his sixth Riverside shut-out in a row, but that did not tell the entire story for Boro, who failed to find the net for a record sixth successive game.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yet there was genuine gratitude at the end as Teessiders hailed Given. The Irishman, now back at Aston Villa, said: “The fans have been great since I joined and, at the end, it was a little bit emotional because they were all standing and I got a great ovation.

“I would like to thank them genuinely for their support. I wish the lads well for the rest of the season; it’s a shame I have to go.

“Whoever gets the next goal will give the whole team a lift and I think it would be worse if we weren’t creating chances.

“You look at the last two home games and both opposition goalkeepers have got man of the match.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Legendary Boro goal-poacher Bernie Slaven had his own colourful take on his former club’s attacking impotence by suggesting in a post-match radio phone-in that they ‘couldn’t score in Amsterdam’.

You can get a lot further than the Dutch capital in a flight from the UK in the game time that has elapsed since Boro’s last goal, a monstrous 10 and a quarter hours. Try San Francisco, Bogota, Beijing.

A couple of weeks ago, Cellino jetted in from somewhere slightly closer in Miami to start his United adventure, but is still waiting to pass go with the Football League authorities.

The Italian made the short journey from Leeds to Teesside on Saturday and wore shades in the bright late winter sunshine – not that he saw anything illuminating on the pitch.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Leeds may have had their batteries recharged after a 12-day break, but looked flat as they failed to display anything like the attacking threat that had been promised.

The best they could muster was a 40th-minute shot from Luke Murphy which whistled wide, and muted appeals for penalties in each half – the first for a challenge from Kenneth Omeruo on Noel Hunt and the second for a handball against Jonathan Woodgate – were rebuffed.

Without a goal in eight hours and 47 minutes before kick-off, Boro set their first unwanted record two minutes in to equal their longest spell without a league goal, previously set in 2009 under Gareth Southgate.

After 68 minutes, they achieved a dubious double, breaking their previous record of 593 minutes without a goal in all competitions, set by John Neal’s class of 1978.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the final analysis, they forced Butland into making just two truly meaningful saves, with him smartly tipping over Butterfield’s long-range effort just before half-time and racing out to deny Adomah 11 minutes from time.

His only other business saw him spare Stephen Warnock’s blushes after he diverted George Friend’s cross towards his own net just after the break and smother an acrobatic shot from Danny Graham.

The hosts’ only other moment of menace was in stoppage time, with Adomah off beam – predictably – when well placed in front of goal.

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

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

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

Referee: A Taylor (Wythenshawe).