TYPICAL Boro! Being mugged in stoppage time in such heartbreaking fashion with three massive points within grasp was a real kick in the teeth. We had bossed the game for 70 minutes and at the death had a chance to seal it – Justin Hoyte! In the box and facing the goal late on for the second game running! The terror of responsibility! Arrrrggghh! – then were undone by a 60 yard punt forward.
If you are minded to look for recriminations you can argue over how you parcel up the blame for the goal all night long – Hoyte missed the chance to seal it or at least row zed it…. David Wheater was out-jumped by makeshift targetman Collins to the kind of ball he had gobbled up all day for the knockdown … that forced Jason Steele to charge out and dive in to put a weak punch on it…. that fell into the gap where Matthew Bates should have been and Becchio was – but it won’t stop it hurting.
With 91 minutes gone you expect to hold out, even if we had been pummelled for the last 10 minutes by an increasingly desperate side. We had started to retreat and invite pressure and Leeds were pumping it forward creating some nervous and scrappy moments. Becchio fired over, a McCormack header flashed wide, Steele came out to collect one and missed and if drifted just outside the post. It was hairy stuff. But we still looked like hanging on. Until the enamel shattering size nine in the teeth.
So it hurts. And rightly so. Especially as it was a day when all the results went our way. All the bottom three lost and Sheffield United got battered and helpfully took their recent goals against tally to 11 in three games so we could claw above them on GD. Had we won the day would have taken on a very healthy complexion.
But let’s not beat ourselves up too much. Before the game you’d have taken a point. Yes you would! Leeds were unbeaten in 11, had polished off runaway leaders QPR and had they won would have gone second. Given our appalling away record an away draw at Elland Road would have to be seen as a platform building bonus.
And, despite the late blow, we can take heart from what was a good, solid, industrious performance by what looked a well-balanced, organised and motivated side. Boro battled in midfield, crashed into tackles, closed down quickly and stopped Leeds playing with any width or pace or rhythm with scapegoat elect Nicky Bailey outstanding and Barry Robson putting in some hard graft after he came on early for Thomson who once again limped out feeling a reaction to his fracture earlier this term.
And having knocked Leeds out of their stride, after the first 15 minutes grabbing the game by the throat, Boro started to assert themselves. They started to pick their way forward and make some dangerous probes down the flanks with Marvin Emnes causing all sorts of problems down the right and Julio Arca and Joe Bennett looking a potent attacking unit down the left. Boro looked bright and inventive and hungry.
The first half was heartening and entertaining stuff and although the goal was far from pretty, Wheater’s header made it two goals from set-pieces in successive away games, which is a useful weapon to add to our armoury… and cynics might add, a couple of goals will help push up the Redcar Rock’s price in January.
In the second half Boro were tested more but stood up to it without much trouble until the last ten minutes. Five minutes even. Leeds were forced to go long and push a defender up front to play route one stuff and we were coping. And we looked sharp on the break and really, really should have sealed it through Hoyte.
In recent weeks – after Doncaster and Coventry in particular when missed chances and late goals leaked proved costly – the gaffer has urged the Teesbeat press posse to look not to the result but to the positives in the performance. Ironically today we were saying the same to him but he was more scathing about the points dropped. I think maybe he has a hint of old Ayresome antipathy towards Leeds and took it personally. It’s not a bad thing if the manager has a real affection for the club and feels the pain.
And there were some strong positives to take from the game. That we come away gutted at a draw away to one of the promotion chasers shows the bar has been imperceptibly raised. a few weeks ago we’d have been glad to get away without being battered. In fact, they – fans, players, manager – were relieved to scrape a point.
And there were some excellent individual performances. Joe Bennett is fast improving as a defender and was superb going forward and his weaving run into the box only to fire over was exquisite. A player discarded by the old regime is coming on leaps and bounds. Marvin Emnes too shows he has something to offer. He won’t score a lot of goals but we know that pace can unsettle teams.
Julio Arca continues his purple patch and has been Boro’s most consistent creative player this term… just as his contract is running out. And a word too for Nicky Bailey. I know that once players have been branded “rubbish” by the crowd the dye is cast and it will take some winning his detractors round after a sticky start that belied his reputation as a goalscoring midfielder, but his recent displays in a more robust battling role deeper in the engine room have been instrumental in Boro earning the right to play.
So yes, it hurts to have two points snatched away at the death – but that was a good point earned by a steadily improving team. Things are starting to slowly swing our way.
Happy New Year.