New Middlesbrough boss’ eyes opened by Leeds Utd defeat

Leeds United v Middlesborough..The Middlesborough keeper Jason Steele tangles with Dexter Blackstock resulting in the keeper being sent off..23rd November 2013.Picture by Simon Hulme
Leeds United v Middlesborough..The Middlesborough keeper Jason Steele tangles with Dexter Blackstock resulting in the keeper being sent off..23rd November 2013.Picture by Simon Hulme

IF Middlesbrough’s new man in charge was at all unaware of what life in the English second tier was all about then come Saturday evening his eyes had been opened.

A full-blooded all-action affair played in a hotbed atmosphere and with a sending off to boot – the Championship epitomised.

As it was, Aitor Karanka said the game was exactly how he imagined.

He also pointed out the defensive mistakes are the most “dangerous problem” – something the Middlesbrough players know all too well as an all-too worrying trend came back to haunt them yet again.

But a dose of new-manager-syndrome is something Boro have rarely been afforded.

For Karanka is the latest addition to a list packed with his predecessors including Mowbray, Strachan and McClaren who have lost their first game in charge.

Not that the cause of the new gaffer and his players was helped on the stroke of half time when Jason Steele was given his marching orders.

And that was after Ross McCormack, the man who was handed the part of the main role in the sub plot away from the glare of a new Middlesbrough manager duly obliged to adhere to the laws of footballing inevitability and hit the net against the team who courted him all summer.

Boro were already chasing the game when, for the second consecutive match, Daniel Ayala commited defensive suicide.

With just a minute left on the clock before the break his attempted header back to Steele never had anywhere near enough conviction.

Out came the desperate Steele but not before McCormack’s partner in crime up top Dexter Blackstock got a touch on the ball, moments before he was flattened by the on-rushing keeper.

In truth, the stopper didn’t have a leg to stand on and the man in the middle Philip Gibbs took no time to peel the red card from his back pocket.

The only saving grace for the visitors was that the resulting free kick came to nothing.

But at 1-0 down and with the keeper having received his marching orders, it wasn’t the ideal circumstances for Karanka’s first half time team talk.

The opening goal had arrived on 35 minutes.

Leeds had started well, they were the brighter of the two sides throughout the opening stages.

But having miscued a glaring opportunity to rub Boro’s nose in it after just two minutes when he sliced wide from less than six yards that man McCormack wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

Steele, still on the pitch at this stage, saved smartly to his right when McCormack teed up Danny Pugh, who was a constant menace throughout down the left side.

But Boro were unable to clear the resulting corner and when Blackstock headed the ball back across the face McCormack couldn’t miss.

He enjoyed the moment as much as the Leeds faithful. Having been barracked by the 2,600 who made up the Boro following in the opening stages he made a point of celebrating directly in front of the travelling Teessiders.

It had been coming. Blackstock, McCormack and the brilliant Leeds skipper Rodoph Austin who drove the home side on all afternoon had all threatened.

The hosts were first to threaten in the second half when Lee Peltier broke down the right. His cross was headed clear by the recalled Fraser Richardson but the clearance only went as far as the arriving Marius Zaliukas who could only scuff his volley.

Boro broke quickly and Kei Kamara found himself with space to run into for the first time in the match but was unable to take advantage of the promising opportunity when he underhit his through ball to Albert Adomah.

Adomah had had a quiet first half but if Leeds weren’t quite aware of the danger he posed they were soon to find out.

The Ghanian broke down the right in the 52nd minute before whipping in an inviting cross begging for a finishing touch. Muzzy Carayol provided exactly that, his first time volley beat Paddy Kenny and sent the travelling fans into raptures.

Despite being a man down, it gave Boro the perfect opportunity to get a foothold in the game. They didn’t and just five minutes later they found themselves behind again.

Deputy stopper Jason Leutwiler saved well when he was called into action for the first time, his oustretched hand palming away Alex Mowatt’s effort from the edge of the area.

But he was unable to do the same moments later when Jason Pearce rose above Fraser Richardson all too easily at the far post and headed home.

Curtis Main and later Lukas Jutkiewicz were thrown on as Boro looked to salvage something from the game.

And Karanka looked visibly frustrated for the very first time as the game entered its final 10 minutes and Boro won two free kicks consecutively midway inside the Leeds half but opted to take both short and quickly instead of taking the opportunity to get bodies into the box.

It triggered a spell in which the tie threatened to spill over. Tackles were flying but referee Gibbs opted to let most go, against the approval of the ever growing tetchy Leeds fans.

Boro’s following were given renewed hope when the fourth official held up the board indicating five minutes of added time. But there was to be no last minute heroics as there was last time out against Watford. An audacious long range Jutkiewicz effort which stung the hands of Kenny was as good as it got.

Obvious disappointment for Karanka who would have loved nothing more than a winning start but he was pleased with the attitude shown by his players and heaped praise on the Boro fans who made the short trip south.

“One part of me is sad at the score and some of the things I see in the game, mistakes in the first half,” admitted Karanka.

“But the other part of me is happy because my team was on the pitch until the last minute with one player less and fighting like a team, this and all of the supporters we had today with a lot of people in Leeds from Middlesbrough gives me more energy to be happy.”

“I want to think in a positive way and in the second half my team was fighting together.”

Karanka made a point of ensuring all of the Boro players showed their appreciation to the travelling fans after the final whistle.

“They (the fans) are very very important,” he said.

“I arrived here 10 days before this match and from that day I felt the support, the support from everybody and we need to say thanks and fight together.”