Neil Warnock's tactical nous is found out once again as United's 'real good go' at the play-offs falters at Middlesbrough.
Leeds United travelled to the Riverside Stadium on Tuesday night in the hope of keeping their season alive. Anything less than a win against the side sitting in 6th place would surely spell the end of the Whites' already slim hopes of securing a place in the end of season play-offs. United's veteran manager named the same side that drew 2-2 with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Molineaux on Saturday. However, El-Hadji Diouf and Rodolph Austin were named among the substitutes at the expense of Ross Barkley and Ryan Hall.
Neil Warnock's men looked absolutely nothing like a side who were going to have a ‘real good go' at getting in the play-offs when in the opening moments of the game Rhys Williams was left with acres of space at the back post. Luckily for Paddy Kenny and Williams' marker, his shot into the ground bounced over the crossbar and United got away with it. Not to be intimidated though, the Whites were to fire in some first half shots. It was David Norris who was continuing on from Saturday's performance against Wolves, in which he attempted a number of shots on goal, who had Leeds first attempt on goal. It opened up for the former Ipswich midfielder but much like his efforts at Molineaux, it was off target from just outside the area. Norris was to have another opportunity moments later when some good build up play saw the ball fall to United's number 19. This time Norris got his effort on target but Jason Steele in the Middlesbrough goal was equal to it.
The Elland Road outfit were really starting to take control of proceedings and it was Ross McCormack who would be guilty of missing the next chance. Paul Green swung the ball in from the right and a slip from Jason Steele resulted in the ball falling to the Scotland International who had notched 4 goals in his last 5 prior to this evening's fixture. However McCormack dallied on the ball long enough for former United favourite Jonathon Woodgate to get back and clear his effort off the line. It was the sort of chance that given the lack of creativity under Warnock, you got the feeling that missing it was not going to lead to a successful night. The theme of the night was clearly that the game could go either way in a clash contested by two teams bereft of confidence. Not wanting to disrupt the theme of the night, Boro were ruing a chance missed seconds before half-time. The Whites defence was carved open and Mustapha Carayol was sent one on one with Paddy Kenny. The on-rushing former QPR keeper was out quick enough to block Carayol's shot and the danger to United's goal was averted.
Steve Morison started the second half in determined fashion. Leeds' new number nine got into the faces of Middlesbrough's defenders straight from the kick off and his block led to a United corner. Morison managed to get his head to the corner and it caused some problems in the area. However there was no United head able to reach the ball and it was once again cleared from the goal-line. It was a similar story when Ross McCormack whipped in a free-kick from the left. Paul Green was inches away from making contact but he didn't and the ball ended up in Jason Steele's hands.
The longer the game went on, the more you thought it wasn't going to be United's day. A free kick awarded to Middlesbrough just outside the box was sent agonisingly close by Grant Leadbitter and if that didn't give United enough warning, moments later Paddy Kenny made a fantastic double save and credit where credit is due, Kenny had a good game, somewhat making up for his error at Wolves on Saturday. Not even Kenny could stop the inevitable though. On 82 minutes, shortly after calls came from the Leeds fans for Warnock to make a change it was 1-0 to Boro thanks to a looping header from Curtis Main. The adrenaline was clearly running through Main's veins though when minutes later he was shown a red card. Main received two yellow cards in no more than 5 minutes, his first for dissent and his second for kicking the ball away. Despite Main's stupidity, not even having an extra man was going to help United though. Habib Habibou was thrown on by Warnock (too little too late) and he almost grabbed an equaliser with his first touch. The tall front-man guiding a header on target only to see the in-form Steele tip it over.
Leeds' last chance had gone and Middlesbrough saw it through to get their first win (and points) of 2013. Teams must love seeing Leeds roll in to town. It is definitely time for a change in management I'm afraid, the football we play is atrocious and the tactics are even worse than that. This season is officially over for Leeds United in February but we can all look forward to a really good performance against Man City on Sunday. Just a shame we can't perform against the likes of Wolves and Middlesbrough in the games that actually mean something. Neil Warnock might be taking a handsome wage home week in, week out but he should be ashamed of his time at Elland Road. He came with a fantastic reputation but he has turned that reputation sour at Leeds. Simon Grayson puts him to shame and I can assure that is something I never thought I would say. Roll on next season when we can all be optimistic again.