Monday evening had all the ingredients for a disaster at Elland Road. The #TimeToGoMassimo movement reached its peak, and a protest on the East Stand made an emphatic pre-match statement that would soon go viral. Leeds United languished in 16th place, coming off a soul-crushing defeat against Nottingham Forest at Elland Road last week. Middlesbrough sat in 2nd place and looked to go top of the table with new £9m signing Jordan Rhodes making his first start for the Smoggies and with one of the best defenses in all of England. And of course, Cellino would be quick to say, SkyTV was causing all sorts of trouble for the home fans by moving this Saturday game to Monday night for an international television audience.
What perfect timing for an embarrassment of mammoth proportions.
Instead, Steve Evans' lads stood firm against a Premier League-caliber assault (especially in the second half), showed signs of strength not befitting a team stuck in the middle of the Championship table, and played as exciting a last five minutes of football as we've seen in the league this season.
That's not an embarrassment. Far from it. Leeds gave us something to be proud of.
They came to play Monday night, and while the Middlesbrough keeper kept the Duke from securing three points for the home side, we were still treated to a much-needed, encouraging performance.
The first chance of the game came only five minutes in, when a long ball from Giuseppe Bellusci found Souleymane Doukara, and a pass into the box found Mirco Antenucci who put a low shot into the foot of a defender. The rebound came out to Charlie Taylor, and his cross found Stuart Dallas who barely put one over the net. Great opportunity that, and a great start to the game.
Boro answered quickly with chances of their own, none better than the chance in the 14th minute where Bellusci cleared a ball off the line denying Gaston Ramirez. The chances were plentiful in the first half: Jordan Rhodes had a goal called off in the 19th minute that probably should've counted, Ritchie De Laet nearly scored (in his own net) on a poor corner clearance in the 30th, and Doukara had a beautiful shot from distance barely miss in the 32nd. The play was frantic; messy at times to be sure, but chances were plentiful and goals weren't to be found.
While the exciting first half was a fairly even affair, Leeds probably had the better of the run of play going into halftime at 0-0.
Couple of chances for both sides but no goals. Leeds giving as good as they're getting. Tight and scrappy though.— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 15, 2016
The second half was a different story: Middlesbrough came out punching and looking for that go-ahead goal. The best of those chances came in the 63rd minute, when Cristian Stuani really should've done better, putting an open volley over the net, a net he likely finds nine times out of ten. Nugent had a dangerous cross in the 69th, and you really felt like the heartbreaking 1-0 defeat was inevitable.
And then the Duke showed up. Leeds' best player of late (and their only real threat, if we're honest), Souleymane Doukara headed a free kick into the back of the net... except Dimitrios Konstantopoulos defied the laws of physics and did this:
Just an unbelievable save. The Leeds players all thought it was in, but Dimi pulled a Mutumbo and waved his finger at the best chance of the game (to that point... stay tuned). Middlesbrough answered right back, and Jordan Rhodes surely should've scored in the 72nd, but he put his shot straight at Marco Silvestri. Really, you'd think a £9m signing could do better with that ball.
72. Rhodes does well to get clean through on goal but takes his shot early and it's straight at Silvestri. COME ON BORO!— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) February 15, 2016
The remaining 15 minutes were as intense as any Leeds United has played this season, and when defender Ben Gibson made a terrible mistake on tackling substitute Lee Erwin in the 89th minute, the game hit another level. The most beautiful pass I've ever seen (well, from Liam Bridcutt at least) found a streaking Doukara in the 92nd minute, and good Lord in heaven, surely everyone assumed we had the elusive game-winning goal. Instead, Konstantopoulos found a way to stop that one too.
The game ended 0-0, but the feeling in post-game interviews (and with this fan, at least) was one of subdued victory. Leeds couldn't convert in the final third, again, but facing one of the best defenses in England, and with the chances Doukara in particular was able to string together, that felt alright. The defense (and especially Bellusci, what a game from him) was able to shut down a potent Middlesbrough attack, and 0-0 felt like a well-earned result on both sides. It wasn't the 1-1 our Anthony Linley predicted in the preview, but he did say he wouldn't be able to say who scored. Now we know why.
The hard-earned point surely won't be the story after this game, as the protest went viral (and well it should) afterwards, but as a fan, you have to appreciate the Whites' effort at Elland Road Monday night in the face of a wide range of difficult challenges. I'm sure we'll all talk about Cellino at some point this week, but with Watford and the FA Cup on Saturday, and with this point in our pocket, AND with the potential of a Chris Wood return (Evans said he was 50/50), it'd surely be nice to forget our crap ownership for awhile and focus on the game on the pitch.
Maybe we can take a break after all, thanks to the performance Monday night.
What did you think Leeds fans? Let's focus on the game: was the 0-0 draw enough for you? Who was your man of the match? Are you feeling more optimistic about Doukara as our main option up top after that performance? Let us know in the comments, vote in our poll; thanks for reading. #MOT