On the second anniversary of the passing of Gary Speed, Leeds recorded their third consecutive league win by edging past ten man Middlesbrough. Goals from Ross McCormack and Jason Pearce fell either side of a Muzzy Carayol equaliser to steer the Whites into the play-off spots.
Brian McDermott made two changes to the side that impressively saw off in-form Charlton Athletic at the Valley two weeks ago. Young Alex Mowatt returned in place of Michael Brown and the ankle injury picked up by Scott Wootton at Charlton also ruled him out, with Mariusz Zaliukas given his first Elland Road start.
Middlesbrough's 2-2 draw with Watford last time out signalled the end of the Tony Mowbray era and Boro's visit to Elland Road was therefore new manager Aitor Karanka's first in charge. Rhys Williams, Ben Gibson and Seb Hines all missed out, the latter through injury, and were replaced by George Friend and two ex-Whites, Frazer Richardson and Jonathan Woodgate. The excitement of the new era under Karanka was clear, with the away side selling out their full allocation of tickets. Combine this with 27,000 Leeds fans and a moving tribute to Gary Speed and what you had was an electric atmosphere inside Elland Road as the game kicked off.
Leeds started brightly and could have been ahead inside two minutes. Alex Mowatt's mis-hit shot somehow found its way to McCormack who improvised well but couldn't hit the target with his header. Jason Pearce also headed wide in an opening exchange dominated by the home side until the visitors hit back, enjoying a good spell of possession. Some desperate Leeds defending cleared both a free kick from Leadbitter and the follow-up from Adomah, and only a poor first touch from Carayol prevented him from creating another shot on goal for the away side. Leeds hit back, creating three excellent chances in the space of ten minutes. First, Jason Steele beat away a pile-driver from Rudy Austin before Dexter Blackstock side-footed over from eight yards after excellent work from McCormack.
The in-form Scot was looking lively and with Leeds rejecting four bids from Middlesbrough for him over the summer, it was scripted that he would score. Danny Pugh forced another good save from Steele, but it was the resulting corner that was to lead to the opening goal. It was swung in deep by Murphy and headed back across goal by Tom Lees for McCormack to convert from two yards out. Leeds had the lead, McCormack had his seventh goal in three games and new Boro boss Karanka had seen defending bad enough to make him jump on a plane back to Madrid.
He probably wishes he had as it got worse for the visitors just before half time. An appalling header back to Steele from Daniel Ayala sent Blackstock through but the Forest loanee's run towards goal was stopped illegally by the on-rushing goalkeeper. Blackstock had arguably lost control of the ball and was outside the area upon contact but referee Gibbs, perhaps influenced by the home supporters, dismissed Steele for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Marvin Emnes was sacrificed for goalkeeper Jason Leutwiler, who's first task was to face the resulting free kick which McCormack sent wide.
HT: Leeds United 1-0 Middlesbrough
When teams fail to beat ten men, the old "its hard to play against ten men" line comes out. When teams go down to ten men, so does the belter, "the sending off changed the game". However managers like to spin things, everybody can understand the desirability of playing a team with less players than you have. So why does it continuously cause problems?
It did here. Leeds couldn't get going in the first ten minutes of the second half and were made to pay on the 52nd minute. A quick counter from the visitors saw the excellent Albert Adomah ghost past Pugh before delivering a cross that Carayol swept in on the volley. Leeds' excellent first half performance was forgotten, as the alarm bells started ringing around Elland Road in a fashion that we're all so used to.
In fairness to the home side, they did exactly what they had to by responding instantly. Mowatt forced a fine save from Leutwiler before Leeds regained the lead just five minutes after conceding. The resulting corner was played short to Lee Peltier who dug out a fine cross, met by Jason Pearce's famous 50p at the back post. Surely game over.
Buoyed by the goal and backed again by the crowd, Leeds pushed on for a decisive third. The impressive Mowatt was again denied by Leutwiler,who spread himself well to smother at the younger's feet. Austin headed a half chance wide, as Leeds turned the screw.
We do love to make it hard for ourselves though and as ever, it was all too easy to "un-turn" that screw. First, George Friend fired high and wide after been given far too much time before Jutkiewicz forced Kenny into his first real save. The ball nearly squirmed through his grasp, and the 'keeper's wry smile to the South Stand told the story; it was Leeds' day.
Leeds: Kenny, Lees, Zaliukas, Pearce, Peltier, Pugh, Mowatt, Austin, Murphy, Blackstock, McCormack.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Friend, Richardson, Woodgate, Ayala, Carayol, Leadbitter, Smallwood, Adomah, Emnes, Kamara.
Official Man of the Match: Alex Mowatt
My Man of the Match: Mariusz Zaliukas.