Thomas Christiansen declared Leeds United “alive” after a brave win over Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough put a halt to the club’s damaging sequence of form.
Leeds survived a late onslaught from Boro, provoked by a contentious 77th-minute penalty, to claim a 2-1 victory at Elland Road and buck a worrying trend of seven defeats in nine league matches.
Christiansen was under mounting scrutiny before the game having seen Leeds fall from the top of the Championship to 11th in the space of two months but goals from Pablo Hernandez and Gjanni Alioski eased the pressure on United’s head coach and denied Monk a satisfying return to Elland Road.
Middlesbrough’s manager was making his first appearance at the ground since resigning as Leeds’ boss in May and he received a hostile reception from a crowd of almost 34,000.
Samuel Saiz hit a post with Leeds 2-0 to the good but Britt Assombalonga struck from the penalty spot to give Boro hope of snatching a point late on.
The controversial decision, given for a pull by Luke Ayling on Daniel Ayala, saw tempers flare and objects thrown from the crowd at the linesman responsible for awarding it, but Leeds survived through seven minutes of added time to claim a badly-needed result.
Christiansen said: “I’m very happy. The players did a very good job, believing and following my instructions to go for the game and for the three points. That, from my point of view, marked the difference.
“The players did all that they had to do. We faced one of the best teams in this league, a team who wanted promotion straight, but we played better than them and deserved the three points.
“The team is alive and they’ve been alive the whole time. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail but when you fail you have to work hard to improve the situation. We’ve analysed a lot and worked a lot. There’s been a good atmosphere, believing it would turn.”
Assombalonga’s penalty came after Ayling tripped Ayala having first been dragged to the ground by the Middlesbrough centre-back.
Christiansen said: “It was a foul before for us but it’s not an excuse. The good thing was the reaction the players had, the responsibility that all of them took on the pitch.
“It’s proof that we’re working well, the team is alive and in the right way.”
The result set Leeds up for a difficult week in which they visit league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday night and Barnsley – a traditionally awkward fixture – on Saturday.
Christiansen insisted the presence of Monk had not been a factor in his side’s performance, saying: “The players were aware of that but it’s not an extra motivation. The motivation is that we play against Middlesbrough, a very strong team. We played better than them.”
Monk, who took Leeds to seventh in the table last season, spoke out before the game to defend his decision to resign as head coach, saying United’s failure to offer him a long-term contract had forced his hand.
He was subjected to chants of “f*** Garry Monk” yesterday but said: “It’s not about me. What’s happened has happened.
“I’ve said my side, the club have said their side and that’s done and dusted. I enjoyed last season but my only focus is on Middlesbrough.
“The game was done on fine margins, a game of limited chances. We did enough to at least take a point away.”