Marcelo Bielsaâ€™s smile at the ultimate whistle was as bright because the stars within the clear night sky above Teesside. The Leeds manager had not merely seen his second-placed side maintain an honest chink of daylight between themselves and therefore the Championshipâ€™s chasing pack but he had proof they will cope without their midfield enforcer Kalvin Phillips in any case .
Yet if Leeds, five points beyond third-placed Fulham, are cautiously optimistic about automatic promotion, one among their former players might be heading within the other way . Mateusz Klichâ€™s goal left Jonathan Woodgateâ€™s Middlesbrough in deep trouble after a match during which they, creditably, refused to fold but still looked distinctly runner-up and were mocked with chants of â€œgoing downâ€ from the 4,500 away fans. judi bola online judibolaterbaik.co
Not that Woodgate was buying it. â€œIf we keep playing like that weâ€™ll be fine,â€ the Boro manager said. â€œWeâ€™ll keep it up fighting.â€
A broken finger did not prevent Kiko Casilla â€“ still expecting a Football Association disciplinary panelâ€™s verdict on the racism complaint against him by West Bromâ€™s former Charlton loanee Jonathan Leko â€“ starting within the visiting goal. â€œIt was a brave decision for Kiko to play with the pain he had,â€ Bielsa said. â€œBut his was an honest performance.â€
Phillips though did not get over injury in time and his absence from the all important anchoring role led to Ben White vacating his central defensive berth to fill a niche left by a player so pivotal for Leeds this season he’s seen as a possible dark horse for the britain squad. No wonder White looked slightly jittery as Leeds initially struggled to seek out a coherent passing wavelength.
Fortunately for this ersatz anchor, Boro, without a league win since New Yearâ€™s Day, were even more tentative. Woodgateâ€™s team â€“ without their January star signing Ravel Morrison who was on the bench â€“ inadvertently helped White settle into his new role. With Leeds establishing an ominously convincing passâ€™nâ€™move groove, Boro had reason to be grateful for an old boyâ€™s profligacy.
There is much to admire about Patrick Bamford but Bielsaâ€™s lone forward isn’t always exactly ruthless and his litany of missed chances this season â€“ largely explains why West Brom instead of Leeds top the table.
Aware his side were living dangerously, Woodgate looked particularly alarmed as a slick manoeuvre sliced through his defence like an aeroplane cutting through cloud and concluded with Aynsley Pears diving smartly to stay out Stuart Dallasâ€™s low shot.
Betrayed, repeatedly, by poor final balls Boro did not capitalise on Hayden Coulsonâ€™s ability to outpace Luke Ayling and sometimes struggled to urge out of their own half. Casilla barely needed to flex his wounded finger.
Woodgateâ€™s players appeared riven with assorted fractures of their own and, shortly after Pablo HernÃ¡ndezâ€™s shot ricocheted backtrack a post, their backline finally broke.
With Boro caught out by a rapid counterattack which ended with Bamford cleverly cueing up HernÃ¡ndez, they proved powerless to clear the fallout from that rebound and, seizing the initiative, Klich played a one-two with HernÃ¡ndez before sending a coffee shot arrowing into rock bottom corner.
Scored as half time beckoned, his goal could have destroyed Boroâ€™s morale but, instead, it motivated them with Coulsonâ€™s audacious nutmegging of Ayling possibly emblematic of the potential locked somewhere deep inside this team.
George Saville unleashed their first shot on track in three games but, finally called to arms, Casilla tipped it over the bar. Woodgateâ€™s horizon had briefly brightened but, although Marcus Tavernier would subsequently curl an attempt against the bar, Pears was soon performing wonders to repel HernÃ¡ndezâ€™s swerving shot before Leeds had a strong-looking penalty appeal rejected when Jack Harrison was sent tumbling.
â€œMiddlesbrough were above their recent level,â€ Bielsa said. â€œIt was very tough but we stayed calm and managed situations well.â€