Leeds 0-0 Middlesbrough: United stay top after Elland Road stalemate
Report and highlights from Sky Bet Championship clash
By Dan Long
Last Updated: 01/09/18 8:58am
Leeds ensured they topped the Sky Bet Championship table heading into the first international break of the season as they drew 0-0 with a typically-resolute Middlesbrough at Elland Road on Friday evening.
Despite the hosts' promising start, Boro had the better of the early chances as Britt Assombalonga headed over from just yards out, before Luke Ayling's header from Barry Douglas' corner was cleared by Adam Clayton on the line.
Neither side edged themselves on top in a captivating second half, although it looked as if the game was set for a grandstand finish, as had been the case when Dani Ayala netted a stoppage-time winner for Boro against West Brom last Friday evening.
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell (8), Ayling (6), Berardi (7), Cooper (7), Douglas (6), Phillips (6), Alioski (6), Saiz (6), Klich (6), Harrison (6), Roofe (5)
Subs: Jansson (n/a), Bamford (n/a), Dallas (n/a)
Middlesbrough: Randolph (6), Fry (7), Flint (7), Ayala (7), Shotton (7), Howson (7), Clayton (8), Besic (7), Friend (6), Downing (5), Assombalonga (5)
Man of the match: Adam Clayton
The Spaniard almost got the better of Leeds 'keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell with a header from an acute angle in the final throes of the game, while Douglas saw a late free-kick saved as it ended goalless.
Billed as the best defence in the league versus the best attack, that reality became apparent almost from the first whistle; Leeds were keen to advance early on, while Boro succeeded in absorbing the pressure as they so often do.
But in an ironic twist, it was Tony Pulis' side who threatened first. Peacock-Farrell had to be alert to push away Jonny Howson's drive after 24 minutes, before Assombalonga somehow headed a corner over the bar moments later.
In the build-up to the aforementioned chance, replays suggested Aden Flint should have been awarded a penalty after Liam Cooper's wrestling-style takedown, however referee Tim Robinson failed to spot the robust challenge and the Leeds defender went unpunished.
Marcelo Bielsa made two changes from last weekend’s 3-0 win over Norwich: the injured Pablo Hernandez was replaced by Jack Harrison, while Liam Cooper replaced Pontus Jansson in defence.
Neither George Saville nor Danny Batth were signed in time to make Tony Pulis’ starting lineup at Elland Road, though Sam McQueen was included among the substitutes. Mo Besic made his first league start since returning to the club on loan, replacing Martin Braithwaite.
With half an hour gone, Leeds had their best opportunity when Clayton smashed Ayling's powerful close-range header off the line, before the hosts had an unlikely penalty shout of their own turned down when Ayala outmuscled Kemar Roofe.
The tempo slowed after the break as the Championship pace-setters battled to try and force a winner, though the requirement to avoid defeat against a direct rival became clear, with few chances manifesting, in all honesty.
Peacock-Farrell stood firm to keep Ayala's header out with his thigh in the final minute of normal time, before Douglas' late free-kick was held by Darren Randolph as Boro held out for an unprecedented fifth successive clean sheet.
Man of the match - Adam Clayton
A typically busy evening for the midfielder, who played an important role in Tony Pulis's men grinding out a stalemate at Elland Road. With 55 touches (the most for Boro), five tackles (most in the match) and having gained possession 10 times, the stats prove how important the 29-year-old has been in breaking up play to help Middlesbrough to their fifth straight clean sheet and best start in 24 years.
Marcelo Bielsa: "This game was an exam for us, making many efforts so we could balance the game and this will prepare us for new games with these features; we have experience of playing games like this.
"It was hard for us to avoid that they create actions of goals (chances) from set-pieces. We had four or five actions at goal in this game and our opponents also had the same through set-pieces and throw-ins. If they didn't have these, we'd be closer to a win. The result of today is a fair result and both teams could have won."
Tony Pulis: "You come here, you take a point but I thought we were fantastic in respect of our energy and the way they worked together it's just frightening, the effort and commitment they put in.
"I've just said to them that at times we could have passed the ball a little bit better but it's a big arena to come to. Friday night, full house, their crowd were up for it, but the least we deserved was a point."
With the international break occupying next weekend, both sides are next in action in two weekends' time. Leeds travel to Millwall on Saturday September 15, while Boro are presented with another away game as they face Norwich on the same afternoon.