MIDDLESBROUGH will be looking to get back to their ruthless best tomorrow night at Bolton Wanderers after a frustrating first defeat of the season.
Boro, who went into Saturday’s Yorkshire ‘derby’ at Leeds on the back of two wins and no goals conceded, were sunk by new United signing Billy Sharp in the 88th minute.
But the outcome could have been different had Middlesbrough not had a first-half ‘goal’ disallowed.
There appeared to be little wrong with Albert Adomah’s overhead kick on the back of a mistake by Liam Cooper, but referee Stuart Atwell saw something in the moment when the winger went for the ball close to Stephen Warnock’s head.
Adomah ran away to celebrate and the goal appeared to have stood until eventually it was ruled out.
“I can’t understand why the goal is not on the scoreboard,” manager Aitor Karanka said. “I think it was a good height (Admoah’s foot) if you see the replay.
“The referee was the person who saw the foot, but the replay does not show this decision in the first second he was waiting four, five, six seconds as we were running to the middle of the pitch.
“I didn’t see the incident, but if you have a foul you have it on one second not six.”
Karanka, whose side earned plaudits in the first week of the season with convincing wins over Birmingham and Oldham, felt his players paid the price for getting dragged into a war by Leeds.
“We played in their style,” he added.
“We didn’t keep the ball. We tried to do it by putting Adam Clayton on the pitch but we didn’t get to play in our style.”
Sharp signed from Southampton on Wednesday as owner Massimo Cellino responded to Leeds’ opening-day defeat at Millwall and was immediately told by the former Cagliari owner to “hurry up and score some goals”.
The 28-year-old left it until two minutes from time to obey the command but was in the right place at the right time to finish after Tomas Mejias failed to hold Michael Tonge’s shot.
The late drama will have left a sour taste in Middlesbrough’s mouth for it was they who did most of the running throughout and, to almost everyone in the ground, scored a legitimate opener through Adomah which was ruled out.
It was Sharp who would have the final say, though, getting due reward for a grafting performance which nearly brought about a goal after only two minutes.
He ran on to a Souleymane Doukara flick and got into the box, only for Mejias to get out and smother at his feet.
The ball then came free and fell to Nicky Ajose who, from 10 yards out, should have scored and not hit the recovering Daniel Ayala on the line.
That was as good as it got for Leeds in the early stages and they were soon being penned back by a Middlesbrough side who passed the ball round at a pace quicker than United could deal with and really should have been ahead 26 minutes in.
Liam Cooper failed to deal with a long throw into the box and turned to see Adomah overhead kick his half-clearance beyond Marco Silvestri.
It looked a clean goal only forreferee Atwell to chalk it off.
Leeds managed to get hold of the ball on the half-hour and Tommaso Bianchi and Sam Byram had shots the caused little panic, but it was Middlesbrough who remained the more dangerous side and they would have led at the break were it not for Warnock.
Grant Leadbitter’s pass put Adomah through in the six-yard box but, just as he was going to slot past Silvestri, Warnock appeared to shut him down with a brilliant block.
Jason Pearce was the next man to put his body on the line to keep Leeds level, diving in front of a Lee Tomlin effort as the hour approached, with Warnock then displaying his defensive nous once more to nip in and block of Kike as he ran through.
Leeds’ best chance of getting something appeared to be under the suspect handling of Mejias who has been preferred to last season’s goalie, ex-Pools star Dimi Konstantopoulos.
The Spaniard never looked comfortable under a cross and, with 11 minutes left he failed to reach a Luke Murphy centre but Sharp was unable to punish him from six yards.
But the former Doncaster man was on the spot as time ran down, showing the required poise to slot in after Mejias allowed Tonge’s drive to slip away from him.
It denied Boro the point they deserved but will look to get back on track tomorrow night at the Reebok.