ONCE again Boro will come away from Elland Road nursing a sense of injustice after an entertaining and open goalless draw against lowly Leeds.
Jordan Rhodes had what looked a perfectly good goal ruled out after the linesman thought the ball was out of play before Emilio Nsue crossed in. And that was at the same end as Albert Adomah’s ruled out overhead kick last year. The season wouldn’t be right without the annual travesty of some sort against Leeds.
And there was a the red card that has been missing for the last few clashes too. Ben Gibson joins a long list of Boro players peddled against Leeds. Nine in all now. Our most fiery fixture of them all. Aitor wasn’t happy and had a pop at the ref.
It was a frustrating evening and naturally a very disappointing result at the end of a stuttering run of three draws and five games without a win that has somehow left Boro still in second place if flailing to stay ahead of the pack and facing a lot of flak.
And it will leave strained supporters pulling their hair out after more missed chances – two off the line, two a fraction wide – and another missed opportunity to claw back to the top and find some vital momentum to relaunch the promotion push. Those of a nervous disposition will be calculating doomsday scenarios but there were positives: Dael Fry and Gaston Ramirez played well, there were bright spells, chances were created, Rhodes looks a lively presence around the box and Dimi made up for last week’s fumble with two brilliant saves, one involving Go-Go-Gadget telescopic fingers.
And it was a decent game. It was a frantic end-to-end encounter that would no doubt be entertaining for the neutral. Although it is OK for the neutrals because they weren’t sat with knotted stomachs and in need of a defibrillator in the closing stages. And entertaining neutrals is hard to sell after a five game stumble.
Elland Road is always a difficult place to go and has been the scene of some major trauma for Boro over the years. Relegations, shock defeats, regular injustice.
But Leeds have major Elland Road trauma of their own to deal with right now.
It is a club that feels as if it is on the edge of implosion and darkness.
And if you want a symbol for the state of fallen giants Leeds there was a post-apocalyptic circus plonked outside. The rusty, paint-peeling relic up on what used to be the old training pitch – as seen in “The Damned United” – had seen far better days.
There was a bleak looking ghost train, no doubt featuring the faded spectres of a glorious past, a managerial merry-go-round set to go at breakneck speed and all the traditional attractions. Feel free to insert your own clown joke here.
Leeds did manage to light up Elland Road in their own way though.
As ‘colourful’ chairman Massimo Cellino used the match programme to outline the latest twists in his legal wrangle against the Sky Sports deal, Leeds fans stepped up their own campaign against the little loved Italian.
The Leeds owner – recently released from a ban after failing the league’s ‘fit and proper’ test – has been involved in a bitter behind the scenes battle with both the broadcaster and the Football League over the frequency of fixture changes. You may feel he has a point but his confrontational style is winning few friends inside football and Leeds fans feel he should be focused on far bigger problems closer to home.
Supporters groups had a pre-match whip-round to raise £1,200 for an eye-catching illuminated protest. and the East Stand was used to project a series of light show pre-match protests against the abrasive chairman’s erratic regime.
Massimo: Time To Go was the central theme with slogans projected onto the stand screaming the frustrations of fans at not just the current owner but a decade of financial chaos and under-achievement going back to the Ken Bates era.
“Twelve years of false promises: enough is enough,” was one slogan. “We were here before you and still will be after you’ve gone,” said another. A third outlined a crime sheet of 17 reasons why it is time to go including players sales, ‘tax evasion’ ‘the pie tax’ and ‘Hockaday’ – a reference to the brief dug-out cameo of Teessider Dave, in charge as Leeds’ manager of the month for Boro’s 3-0 win at the Riverside in August.
That there is such outright rebellion speaks volumes for the situation within the club and the complete collapse of relations with the supporters. Almost every time we come to Elland Road now, the fans are revolting, against the board, against the owners, against a manager, against the world.
And for all our historic friction with our cousins to the South, it is always sad to see the agonies of supporters when a once proud club is reduced to such a pitiful state.
Some Boro fans may want to take the opportunity twist the knife and the dysfunctional ownership and institutional upheaval of a decade has been excellent ammunition over the banter barricades in the borderlands beyond Stokesley and I understand that.
But whatever the colour of their shirts, supporters of every club are essentially the same. They make the same emotional investment and feel the same joys and pain as we do and we should empathise with. We’ve been there.
And Leeds – the club and the fans – were respectful to Boro’s tributes to Ali Brownlee. His picture was up on the big screen before the game and was backed up with a pre-match announcement to explain Boro’s black arm-bands. And when the poignant phone app light show and ‘One Ali Brownlee’ chanting started early in the second half a lot of Leeds fans joined in with the torches and with generous applause while his picture was once again displayed. That was a nice touch and was much appreciated.
Whatever we say when goading them, Leeds remain a massive club and a genuine sleeping giant. And the state of listing disrepair they find themselves in stark contrast to the off the pitch stability and feeling of ambition and possibility we have enjoyed of late. For Boro the season is just a spark away from an upturn and good times are within reach.
For Leeds they need far more than that and the future is far more troubled.
What we said before the games
LEEDS. You know my position on this – it’s not “a derby” but it used to be – as a cultural thing. As a more specific strategic thing, tonight is game of vast strategic importance. In term’s of the maths it is not a “must win” but in terms of the terrace politics it may be.
Despite being incredibly well placed – a point off top, a point ahead of third with two games n hand – the atmosphere among fans is fragile and febrile: a contagious crisis of faith has swept across Planet Boro with what feels now a significant vocal minority poised to pounce armed with a simmering bucket of tactical told-you-sos. Sometimes it feels like we are our own worse enemies. Sometimes you have to dig in and work through it.
Happy days: The 3-0 Riverside win in August
Leeds are a patchy side riven by internal political division and as usual, we go there at a time when the fans are revolting against the latest boardroom chaos. The match is only going ahead after the Football League took out an injunction against “colourful” owner Massimo Cellino who was poised to pull the plug as part of his on-going battle with Sky Sports. And the legal department has been busy: Cellino is also trying to sue fans who had a whipround to buy a billboard outside Elland Road slating the owner.
So they are in turmoil off the pitch and are not in great shape on it. We battered them 3-0 at the Riverside in quite casual fashion when the sun was shining on Teesside. Now in a far harsher climate Boro go there needing to win – and well – to kick-start the season after a spluttering and unconvincing run but buoyed by the thought that “Jason” Rhodes may finally be unleashed. In his two cameos he has added zip in and around the bit and currently has a one every 37 minutes goal ratio.
And they all know what is at stake. A win will take Boro back to the top and open a gap over third again. And tomorrow table-topping Hull play Brighton in fourth. It is a big “moment” in the narrative of the promotion chase. It is time for an assertive Boro to seize control and start to write their own strip. Come on Boro. Shape the story.
Usual drill. I think Rhodes will get Boro off the mark and we’ll battle to a tense win getting a late second to seal it. Now you predict the score and how the game will pan out. And who will get sent off. We haven’t had one for a few games. And then we’ll meet back here later on for debriefing and recriminations.