Leeds United: Whites and Boro far from finished article

Middlesbrough's Kenneth Omeruo, left, holds onto Leeds United's Ross McCormack.
Middlesbrough's Kenneth Omeruo, left, holds onto Leeds United's Ross McCormack.
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There was urgency in the end but too little, too late from Middlesbrough and Leeds United.

The Championship is renowned for churning out games like Saturday’s and the clubs involved have grown accustomed to finishing their seasons in no man’s land.

Massimo Cellino holds finite knowledge of England’s second division but, as an observer in the stands at The Riverside, he would have doubted the suggestion that a potential winner of the play-offs was on display in front of him.

Mid-table football between two mid-table teams was his reward for gracing Teesside with his presence.

United’s impatient buyer – as yet lacking permission from the Football League to push through his £25m takeover of the club –put his head above the parapet in Middlesbrough, watching Leeds in the flesh for the first time since agreeing to purchase a 75 per cent stake. His son, Edoardo, made the trip too, suited and booted in Italian fashion.

The message for the Cellinos was that the seven-figure sum they are paying to Gulf Finance House will not yield a spectacular return by way of immediate promotion to the Premier League. This, for them, cannot be a flash-in-the-pan romance.

Leeds accrued a point at The Riverside but needed three, and Shay Given, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper, did not have a shot in anger to save. Boro produced a few but drew a blank too.

“Another game without us scoring goals,” said their manager, Aitor Karanka.

The pressure on the play-off positions comes from Wigan Athletic who have won four games from five and possess a weapon’s-grade squad.

Boro are six matches without a victory and have not scored for 10 hours, a club record established over the weekend.

Leeds, meanwhile, have beaten two sides since mid-December and badly need an injection of oomph.

The table as it stands is not a mystery and no grave injustice.

“A point is a good point at Middlesbrough,” said United’s boss, Brian McDermott.

“I was looking at their form at The Riverside beforehand and it’s good. They don’t lose many games here so of course we’ve got to take the positives from that.

“We’ve just played Brighton with nothing in the game and got beat 1-0.

“This could have gone either way too. It could have been 1-0 either way.

“At least we’ve kept a clean sheet and got a point.”

United’s clean sheet owed itself to Jack Butland, the goalkeeper they signed on loan from Stoke City on Friday.

Leeds have operated without a proven replacement for Paddy Kenny for more of this season than they should have done but Butland is an understudy who Kenny will struggle to displace once his ankle injury subsides.

Leeds’ last encountered Butland when the England international was on-loan at Barnsley and the pivotal presence in a one-sided goalless draw at Elland Road in December.

He exerted the same influence and forced the same result in Middlesbrough, mixing safe handling with two fine saves, the second a textbook reaction to a crisis created by Emmanuel Ledesma’s pass to Albert Adomah in the 79th minute.

Butland met Adomah in the blink of an eye, spreading himself and repelling the ball with his shoulder.

Adomah should have repaid the favour in the final seconds of injury-time but hacked a shot wide from six yards out, leaving Butland to take a standing ovation from the travelling crowd.

He was alone by the time he approached the away end and was the only Leeds player – perhaps the only player – deserving of deafening applause.

“He’s 20 years of age and he’s played 86 games already so he’s very mature and he’s very hungry,” McDermott said.

“He wants to be on that plane to Brazil (and the World Cup) with England. You can see that.

“He made a couple of really good saves, he came for crosses and we put him under a little bit of pressure in the first half with some of our backpasses which he dealt with well. He’s terrific.”

There is a bigger problem for McDermott at the other end of the field where, in spite of Ross McCormack’s 23 goals, service to him is sporadic.

United’s tactics in a 1-0 defeat to Brighton earlier this month failed because their counter-attacks collapsed on the wings.

At The Riverside the same was true and United’s chance to steal the points as the game opened up in the second half went begging as Jimmy Kebe and Cameron Stewart grasped for touch and control out wide.

When McCormack finally wriggled free and shook a post late on – an effort diverted brilliantly by Given’s fingertips – the contest had already stopped for a foul. The second half at least had an edge to it, caused by the anxiety of two teams who gradually woke up to the implications of a tepid draw.

In the first 45 minutes they were less animated. Luke Murphy pinged a 20-yard shot wide and Butland leapt to punch Jacob Butterfield’s volley over the crossbar shortly before half-time.

McDermott took issue with an incident involving Noel Hunt, who failed to meet Stewart’s 17th-minute cross with Jonathan Woodgate all over him inside the box. “The lads were going mad at half-time,” McDermott said.

“They thought it was a nailed on penalty. It was blatant.”

There was a shout for another later in the match when the ball brushed one of Woodgate’s hands but in amongst the fraying nerves, Boro were always closer to a goal. Butland denied Adomah skilfully and then watched him shoot wide with virtually the last kick of the match.

“You don’t want to lose a game like that,” McDermott said. “Especially late on.”

Quite why Adomah started on the bench when Curtis Main, wide on the right, gave Stephen Warnock a free lunch for 72 minutes was a question which Karanka failed to answer adequately. The nuisance caused by Hunt’s late replacement, Matt Smith, in the last eight minutes was enough to surmise that he could also have made a telling difference with longer on the pitch. This is how it is in Middlesbrough and Leeds – a case of buts and what-ifs. And time waits for neither of them.

Middlesbrough: Given, Varga, Omeruo, Woodgate, Friend, Chalobah, Butterfield (Ledesma 77), Leadbitter, Kamara (Tomlin 67), Main (Adomah 72), Graham. Subs (not used): Dimi, Whitehead, Morris, Atkinson.

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