Goalscoring touch eludes Boro and Leeds

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Leeds 0-0 Boro – www.skysports.com

Middlesbrough went a fifth game without a win after a 0-0 draw at Leeds on Monday night. Their West Yorkshire opponents put in an aggressive, intensive display and for long periods, stopped the promotion challenges from finding their passing rythym. Positive substitutions gave way to an open second half in which both teams had their chances, but neither were clinical enough to take all three points.

Leeds manager Steve Evans demanded pre-match that his side showed passion and they did just that in the early stages. The hosts pressed high and got to the second balls swiftly, opting to attacking down the left via Souleymane Doukara and left-back Charlie Taylor.

Giuseppe Belluschi played a superb crossfield pass for Doukara, who accelerated past Emiliano Nsue before crossing the ball for Antenucci, whose effort was blocked bravely by Ben Gibson. Boro’s defence then had to react quickly to charge down Stuart Dallas’ shot, as the home fans got behind their team. Due to Middlesbrough’s narrow setup, it was hard for full-backs to get out to the wide men early and so Leeds were able to cause havoc.

After around 10 minutes, Boro had their first spell of possession and could soon have gone ahead. Ramirez’s ball in was spilled by Marco Silvestri and Belluschi turned the ball behind with Jordan Rhodes lurking. Seconds later, Ramirez himself had a close-range shot cleared, as the visitors posed a threat for the first time.

Nsue had struggled defensively early on but the right-back was growing in influence, making some quick forward runs. On 19 minutes, the Spaniard got on the end of a superb long-range pass from Gibson and crossed it in for Jordan Rhodes, who knocked the ball home for what many thought was the opener. In fact, the referee believed the ball to have crossed the line before Nsue hit it, though subsequent replays made that decision appear a mistake.

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Lewis Cook – www.dailystar.co.uk

Gaston Ramirez was at the centre of Boro’s attacking moves, although his through ball for fellow Argentine Cristhian Stuani was deemed offside. Lewis Cook was tasked with a similar role to Ramirez for Leeds, but the academy graduate struggled to adapt to the physicality of the game and was toften bullied off the ball.

Evans’ brave decision to play two men up front paid off in the first half. Doukara and Mirco Antennucci closed down swiftly, meaning Boro’s keeper and centre-backs could not play out from the back. Instead, they were forced into panicked-passes and long balls, which were not to the strengths of lone striker Rhodes, who was rarely involved in the game.

The hosts were getting back on top after half an hour, howeve Ritchie De Laet nearly scored an own goal before Doukara’s improvised effort flew narrowly over the bar. Diagouraga was doing an job in midfield for Leeds. The former Brentford man shielded the defence well, allowing the full-backs to get forward. With Boro’s midfield operating so narrowly, it was important that Wootton and Taylor had the freedom to push up and provide width and that was key to Leeds’ first half prominence.

There was an emotional moment at Elland Road shortly after half-time. 2,800 travelling Boro fans sang the name of Alistair Brownlee, a local commentator who recently passed away, as Leeds sportingly showed a picture of him on the main board.

Leeds were outnumbering Middlesbrough in the midfield area with their diamond system. The visitors were struggling to keep hold of the ball and find their passing range. Boro therefore, preferred not to engage in a battle for the ball in the centre, and instead try to keep the ball for long spells and drop off whenever Leeds got it.

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Cristhian Stuani – www.sportsmole.co.uk

The north-east side got on top midway through the second half. Stewart Downing had had a quiet evening but crossed the ball in from the left and Ramirez’s header rolled across the face of goal. Stuani then came close twice in the space of just a minute, the Uruguayan mishitting De Laet’s cross from left before heading over Downing’s centre. Boro, now buoyed by the introduction of Albert Adomah and David Nugent, were enjoying their best spell of the game.

Dimitros Konstantopoulos had to make his best save of the game on 71 minutes. Doukara headed Charlie Taylor’s free-kick low, into the bottom right-hand corner and the Greek stopper got down superbly. The game was becoming stretched, because seconds later, Rhodes had the chance to score his fifth goal in six games against Leeds. The Scot took the ball past Alex Mowatt to go clean through, but his finish let him down.

Leeds posed more of a threat after the introduction of Mowatt, who made some good forward runs into the box from the right. Boro were back on the attack through the lively Adomah, who crossed the ball in for Rhodes, who nodded just wide under pressure from the keeper.

Middlesbrough were reduced to 10 men in the last few minutes. Centre-back Ben Gibson was sent off for a second yellow, after his rash challenge on Lee Erwin. A few minutes later, Souleymane Doukara was played through on goal by the impressive Belluschi but his shot was blocked by Konstantopoulos.

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Steve Evans – www.gettyimages.co.uk

It was an enthralling second half yet neither side could get the all-important goal. Boro got their 16th clean sheet of the campaign yet their goalscoring problems remain a major concern. They are also somewhat surprising, given money the club has spent on established attacking players such as Stewart Downing, David Nugent and now Jordan Rhodes. The challenge for Karanka is to find a system that retains the team’s defensive balance, whilst getting enough support for Rhodes which, some argue, involves playing two up front.

Leeds can be heartened by the result. They put in one of their best performances for a long time and showed plenty of heart and endeavour, something Evans promised before the game. The hosts could have been more clinical in front of goal and might have won if they had a natural finisher, a glaring weakness in the squad at present. Both teams need to find that goalscoring touch to achieve their respective aims.