The YEP jury have their say ahead of Leeds United’s clash with Middlesbrough at the Riverside.
After a week’s break due to Charlton Athletic’s involvement in the FA Cup for a game that was eventually postponed, United head to the Riverside to try and reignite their Championship play-off challenge.
The destruction of Huddersfield and the blowing away of Yeovil was more recently followed by a narrow 1-0 reversal at the hands of fellow play-off contenders Brighton.
The game at the Amex once again highlighted not only United’s honest endeavour but also their real lack of quality and invention.
In the reverse fixture in November, United emerged victorious in what was Aitor Karanka’s first game in charge.
Subsequently, Jose Mourino’s former assistant has instilled a defensive resilience in Boro that has seen them keep an impressive seven clean sheets in their last 10 league encounters.
Nevertheless goals have also been hard to come by, exhibited by the fact that they have now gone some five Championship matches without a win.
With Luke Varney and Paul Green now departed on loan, Brian McDermott’s options look pretty limited and if the rumours are to be believed he will be asked to further trim his squad should Massimo Cellino be ultimately successful with his takeover bid.
The main highlights of the season to date have been the continued impressive form of (now) captain Ross McCormack, the emergence of young midfielder Alex Mowatt and the return from injury of last season’s player of the year Sam Byram.
Whoever owns United going forward these three must be regarded as the “Crown Jewels” around which the Whites’ team needs to be built if they are to be taken as serious promotion contenders this year or next.
An interesting aside on Saturday’s encounter will see Cellino’s “right-hand man” Gianluca Festa return to one of his former stomping grounds.
Reading’s shock victory away to QPR has now made the gap between United and the final Championship play-off position a significant eight points.
And with two tricky-looking away fixtures to come, the position should be a lot clearer by the time the Whites return from Loftus Road a week on Saturday.
A win at Middlesbrough is pretty much essential to maintain outside hopes of the play-offs but I’m predicting a very rare 0-0 stalemate between two sides that seem to be destined to miss out this time round.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 0.
Eleven days will have passed before Leeds kick another ball in the hope of gaining another three points in this most frustrating of seasons.
Not enough points to be guaranteed safety yet not that far away from a top-six position.
Brian McDermott takes his well-rested squad up the motorway to a ground we have had a good record at.
Since Tony Mowbray was sacked results have hardly improved and Boro stand 14th with 39 points.
Despite their position they do still have enough within their squad to question Leeds.
I would put out a team in a 4-4-2 formation with the same back five that played against Brighton with the returning Cameron Stewart and Jimmy Kebe on the wings, Luke Murphy and Rudy Austin in the middle with Ross McCormack and Matt Smith the preferred front two.
Hopefully the setback against Brighton was a only a temporary slip and Leeds can return to winning ways at the Riverside.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1 Leeds United 2.
Leeds will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing result away at Brighton with a more positive performance at Middlesbrough. Boro will be up for this as a local game always adds the spice. I’m still going for Leeds to win though.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1 Leeds United 2.
After an 11-day break, we travel to Middlesbrough for another early kick off live on Sky. (We’re not famous anymore).
Boro have struggled in recent weeks. They haven’t scored or won a match in five games. Since 1995 when they moved to the Riverside, our record there has been good and on the 11 occasions we have visited we have suffered only one defeat. With games beginning to run out, our play-off hopes are looking slim unless we can go on a long unbeaten run which, let’s be honest, won’t happen. And if or when the Cellino deal is ratified by the Football League, Brian McDermott will have to convince the Italian he is the man to take the club forward.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1 Leeds United 1.
Middlesbrough are as inconsistent as Leeds and haven’t scored in three games. Leeds need to decide to stick with Ross McCormack as a lone striker or put Matt Smith with him. It won’t be pretty I fancy us to do just enough to keep our play-off hopes alive.
prediction: Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 1.
Leeds head to Middlesbrough with no end in sight to the ownership saga.
The wait is frustrating but I am glad the Football League are completing a thorough check of Massimo Cellino’s credentials. We cannot afford another decade under the wrong owner.
We have an excellent record at the Riverside, winning there in three of our last four visits.
Last year’s defeat was our first defeat in Teesside since Boro left Ayresome Park. Top scorer Ross McCormack will, no doubt, take plenty of stick from the home crowd; he silenced their fans at Elland Road in November and will be looking for more of the same tomorrow.
prediction: Middlesbrough 1 Leeds United 1.