Leeds United line-up
Silvestri (GK); Defence: C Taylor (LB), Bamba (DC), Bellusci (DC), Wooton (RB); Midfield: Austin (DM), Murphy (DM), Mowatt (LM), Cook (CM), Byram (RM); Attack: Morison (ST);
Substitutes: S Taylor, Berardi, Sloth, Cooper, Sharp, Antenucci, Çani
Attendance: 25,531 (2,960 Leeds)
Coach Neil Redfearn stuck with the same starting XI from the last game, a 1-0 win at Elland Road against Millwall. Club captain Liam Cooper also returned after two games out with a slight niggle but, due to the form of Sol Bamba and Giuseppe Bellusci, all he could do was gain a place on the bench for today’s visit to leaders Middlesbrough. Redfearn also dropped Brazilian attacker Adryan from the match day squad, despite the diminutive Brazilian having a decent 90 minutes in a midweek U21 fixture.
As first halves go, they don’t start much better than this one did. All it took was one bad throw from replacement Middlesbrough keeper Tomás Mejias to land at the feel of Lewis Cook and Leeds were 1-0 up. OK it took a little more than that but not much more at all. Mejias’ throw landed at Lewis Cook’s feet and he surged towards the 18-yard box, cutting the ball back to the supporting Alex Mowatt who stroked the ball into the bottom left of the goal – a slight deflection leaving the ‘Boro keeper stranded. After that it really was the clichéd one-way traffic with Leeds having to contend with a rampant Middlesbrough team who responded with extreme prejudice and attacking hostility. Middlesbrough had 15 shots in the first half alone, 6 being blocked and 7 on target requiring saving from Marco Silvestri who had a ‘game for the ages’ in between the sticks for Leeds.
It really was the proverbial ‘backs against the walls’ football that often causes many teams to buckle; Leeds could very easily have done so but there’s a steely resolve about the team since the start of 2015. Middlesbrough simply swamped Leeds in every department of the game and, at times, simply looked to be ready to over-run them. Middlesbrough had 217 first half passes (vs Leeds 151 passes – 60% share of passing/possession), Leeds were forced into making 31 clearances (vs 7 Middlesbrough clearances) and Leeds were forced into making 15 blocks (vs 5 Middlesbrough blocks) as Leeds were forced evermore into fighting a rearguard action. Jelle Vossem and Kike really put Leeds to the sword and it took the combined efforts of the Leeds defence and Marco Silvestri to prevent Middlesbrough from gaining an equalising goal. Actually that’s a little harsh, Leeds defended manfully from the front and everyone was involved; it really was a team effort.
Only fleetingly did Leeds break out of the attacking manacles forced on them by Middlesbrough although it did happen. Twice, through Scott Wooton and Sam Byram, Leeds found themselves in the right areas to cause concern but Middlesbrough cleared the danger. Leeds actually had the last morsel of meaningful action in the first half when Sol Bamba headed wide from a a Luke Murphy corner. As halves of football go, it was a tough one where Middlesbrough threw everything at Leeds in the opening 45 minutes and, even though they buckled, Leeds stood firm against the onslaught.
Half time score: Middlesbrough 0 – Leeds United 1
A fire never stops burning unless two things happen; it depletes its fuel or there is no more oxygen left to burn; Middlesbrough’s attacking fire might have dimmed at times in the second 45 minutes but it was never fully extinguished. Barely a minute had passed before the impressive Kike had a shot on target that required Marco Silvestri to make his eighth save of the game. On 49 minutes though it could have all been so much easier for Leeds; Luke Murphy swung a ball in and a towering header from Scott Wootton cannoned resoundingly off the crossbar. Then, normal service resumed as more shots rained down at an oft-times beleaguered Leeds team with blocks and saves coming with increasing regularity.
The second half was becoming more like the grassy veldt of Rorke’s Drift than the green turf of Teeside as Leeds United’s defence, and I count all 11 players in that statement, were forced to repel wave-after-wave of Middlesbrough attacks. Vossen and Kike continued to be at the forefront of Middlesbrough’s attacking surges as they sought an opening and a way back into this game. Leeds continued to spark and a 68th minute piledriver of a shot from Rodolph Austin stung the fingers of Tomás Mejias as he tipped it over. Middlesbrough then had a burst of four shots in the 77th and 78th minutes as Leeds were forced into desperate defending.
A head injury to the impressive Vossen led to a near six minute delay in the game whilst help was administered to him in the centre circle before he was stretchered off. This left ‘Boro with only 10 men on the field as they’d used all available substitutes at this point. The final whistle, after 10 minutes of added time, was a relief to all Leeds players and the travelling 2,960 Leeds supporters with both of these groups thankful that the ‘Siege of Riverside’ was finally over and thet they’d come away victorious. Both teams contributed to a spectacle of a football match with Middlesbrough’s attacking flair and precision really testing the mettle of what is fast becoming an indomitable Leeds United team from 1 through to 11.
Full time: Middlesbrough 0 – Leeds United 1
Player Focus – Marco Silvestri
After 10 saves, you’d be foolish not to give Marco Silvestri the Man-of-the-Match award, it’d be downright criminal in fact. There is no doubt about it either that Silvestri kept Leeds United in this game single-handedly; you can obviously compliment the defence but, at the end of the day, Marco Silvestri has made 10 saves that have prevented 10 potential goals; 7 in the first half alone. Basically Marco Silvestri is a top-drawer shot stopper; of the 136 open-play shots on target that he has faced over the season, he has only conceded 33 goals (the other 7 goals Leeds have conceded have been penalties). With him conceding 33 goals from 136 open-play shots on target, this gives him a save percentage of 75.70%; if you only consider games played in 2015 then, of the 25 opponent open-play shots on target, Silvestri has only conceded 4 goals – this leaves him with an 84% save rate.