Leeds made two changes to Saturday’s 3-0 win, with Jack Harrison replacing an injured Hernandez as he made his first Leeds league start against Tony Pulis’ Boro, a team he made just four appearances during his time there. Berardi remained in the Leeds side while Liam Cooper replaced Jansson after regaining fitness earlier than expected.
Leeds United held onto top spot against the division’s best defence, with United’s back-line coping very well against a towering Middlesbrough side. The first half came thick and fast, filled with tough tackles, frightening intensity as both teams put everything into the game. There were few if any clear-cut chances in this match, Britt Assombalonga headed on goal from a corner but that was as good as it would get for Teesiders in the first period of play. The away side are the highest scoring from set-pieces and Cooper versus Flint was a very gritty battle. Cooper could’ve very easily given away a penalty in the 24th minute as the prolific centre-half in red lost Cooper as the delivery came in. Cooper swung round and ended up wrapping his arm round the back of Flint’s head and both go down and the officials don’t bat an eye, thankfully.
This was a seriously physical match, sometimes a little too physical with a fair few more penalty shouts and plenty of yellow cards. One or two were serious shouts for the referee to point to the spot, with more coming in the second half. Boro defended very well and isolated Roofe when inside the penalty area, but were very slow when bringing the ball out and push Leeds to the limit from these positions.
Leeds were playing plenty of risky passes, some came off but many did not. Leeds did not pass the ball poorly, but were rather very ambitious in their passing actions and you have to give the team credit for having the persistence and confidence in the ‘Bielsa-ball’ system as the midfield kept their continuity and belief in plan ‘A’. Leeds dominated much of the ball for the final fifteen minutes of the first half and Roofe had a header cleared off the line by Adam Clayton from a Barry Douglas corner.
The second half was rather similar, Leeds started off the second 45’ as they finished the first, keeping the ball in the Boro half and playing away from pressure in confident and stylish fashion, it’s a wonderful thing for this Leeds team to have. Clear-cut chances remained scarce in this match but more penalty calls were being made. Pundits considered a tangle at worst in the box involving Klich as a penalty or a 50-50, but in my opinion; no chance. Assombalonga was grabbing onto shirts aplenty (much like many of the players on the pitch), pulling Klich down with him and it was clear to see that Klich didn’t make such contact but just couldn’t stay on his feet, right call from the referee this time around.
Fouls outside the box were quite soft at times but in the end nil-nil seemed the right result. Harrison’s curling effort was met by the Boro keeper while Ayala just about scored at the other end from a corner kick late on. Peacock-Farrell played the game with sharply and made a few big saves and played the ball well and Berardi has to be given a hell of a lot of credit in dealing with Ayala well for the comedic height difference between the two, another solid performance from the Swiss Army man.
Leeds go into the international break at the top of the table, the fans are very excited and the team have shown wonderful grit and determination and have played a lot of beautiful football so far.