Goals are an acute problem for Middlesbrough but the club’s mid-table position and their relative safety owes much to a formation which gives away few.
Boro fought out three successive 0-0 draws around transfer deadline day and have not scored themselves since January 18 but Brian McDermott will tell Leeds United to attack them tomorrow in the manner of a team who have little to lose.
Leeds are at the 30-game mark and will have little interest in the play-offs this time next month if their season fails to ignite quickly, and McDermott has spent the 12 days between their loss at Brighton and tomorrow’s match at The Riverside stressing the importance of “attacking games.”
United were beaten at Brighton – their 12th defeat of the term – by one of the few chances a laboured match produced but the absence of creativity around Albion’s box gave the home defence a comfortable night.
The league table has worsened from Leeds’ perspective since then and they trail sixth-placed Reading by eight points, a sizeable gap so late in the season. Few in Middlesbrough think Aitor Karanka’s squad have any chance at all, two places and three points further back and in the middle of a transitional period with their Spanish coach.
Two of McDermott’s players – Sam Byram and Jason Pearce – talked up United’s chances of reaching the play-offs this week, however, and McDermott has given his team licence to cut loose on Teesside as their campaign approaches the run-in.
“You know as well as I do the thin, small margins we talk about in the Championship,” the United manager said. “Look at the last game against Brighton.
“I feel that with 16 games to go what we need to do is really attack games, not wait for things to happen – especially with the ball. We need to get more crosses into the box and more action in the goalmouth.
“We’ve got one game in front of us tomorrow and we’re going to try and win it. That’s it, the long and short of the situation. We can’t do any more than that at the moment. We only talk about trying to win the next game. Everyone else can talk about top-six finishes. But it does make sense that you have to get a run of results at some point. With 16 games to go, there’s no better time to start than now.”
McDermott was grateful for the break between Brighton and Middlesbrough – a break enforced by the postponement of last weekend’s game at home to Charlton Athletic – but admitted that he and his players were keen to resume their season after a short interlude.
Leeds and Boro contested a tight but entertaining match at Elland Road in November, Karanka’s first game as Middlesbrough boss. A second-half header from Pearce settled the contest, earning Leeds a 2-1 win, but Boro’s set-up and system has changed markedly in the intervening months.
“It seems like a long time ago,” McDermott said.
“I know the team they’ve got now and the system they’re trying to play, what they’re trying to do. Going to any Championship team is difficult, we know that, but we haven’t played for 12 days so we’re looking forward to it.
“The players would always rather be out there playing but the timing of the break was quite good for us.
“I was pleased with the timing. But we lost our last game after winning the previous two so we want to get back to winning ways.”