Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 2

MICHAEL BROWN, WE HAIL THEE!!…

For cometh the hour of 2, our ‘all action’ midfielder provided the absolute highlight of the season, thus far; yes, you read that correctly, the very same ‘”too slow” and “past it” Michael Brown from days consigned to history, now every inch a magnificent phoenix, risen from the modest flames of a limp season, here to stick a shitload of petrol on the play-off bonfire!

The moment in question arrived with the game tailing off towards its inevitable conclusion; Danny Webber was played clean through down the left and as he surged onward in the direction of the goal, he looked infield for options and there he was…Michael Brown, suddenly bounding forward from inside his own half with all the energy and enthusiasm you’d expect of a child, zealously grasping at an opportunity to fulfil his dreams of glory in front of his proud parents as they scream passionate encouragement – a truly awe-inspiring spectacle.

Webber had time, he could see Brown; all he had to do was lay the ball into his path and that was it, Brown would smash it into the corner, pandemonium would ensue, it was written, the perfect finale, one of those little moments, to lock away and cherish, to dust off and re-live so as to remind yourself why you love Leeds United during the midst of a miserable humbling at the hands of Barnsley…                                                                                                                          

Danny Webber, you b**tard!!! How could you misplace that pass? Consider yourself a tainted man; redemption is going to be hard earned after that!

My heart sunk for Brown as he raised in arms in despair, as over the last few weeks he’s come to epitomise Leeds United’s season under Warnock; a lifeless carcass only weeks ago, now totally re-energised. From a crunching tackle inside the second minute, Brown never relented, as did nobody else in a blue shirt – notwithstanding the anti-climax, it was great day, finally!!

Typically, the words ‘Middlesbrough’ and ‘great day’ are not too often muttered in conjunction with each other. In truth, even with the sun shining, presenting the town in its best light, the utter bleakness of the area is inescapable. The first signs of proximity to Middlesbrough were provided by the belching cloud of fumes visible from the A19, about 8 miles away from the ground.

In this case, first impressions don’t mislead; the approach to the stadium dominated by a skyline of cooling towers and chemical plants, a grim panorama guaranteed to undermine any notions of civic pride, but lacking the Blade Runner-esque dystopian future world aura of Ellesmere Port. It appears that Middlesbrough even manages to be nondescript in its awfulness.

As Morrissey sang…

This is the coastal town,

That they forgot to close down,

Come Armageddon, come Armageddon, come…

The Riverside Stadium itself is probably one of the newest things in Middlesbrough; unremarkable in any way itself, yet in the context of its immediate surroundings it shines, like a diamond in a dog turd; the stadium’s gleaming white paint and its red seats in the stands, locking out the morbid horror of the chemical works that flank the approach. It is a baffling place to build a stadium; one of the few venues that attract outsiders to the town and the planners stick it there; as a tourism marketing ploy, it’s comparable with opening up a vegan superstore opposite an abattoir.

 

Thankfully, the dubious pleasures of the outside world were cast to one side once the game got underway. Leeds starting strongly, with Brown’s thundering challenge, setting the tone; like Southampton previously, the opposition were not given a moment to settle. Whereas a few weeks ago, supporters were shouting themselves hoarse, demanding “someone f**king shut him down”, now we often had three or even four players hunting down the man in possession. On the ball the team looked very effective, the passing was good, slick and accurate, and seldom were Leeds hesitant in getting the ball forward quickly; not the aimless hoofs evident at the KC Stadium, but quick incisive passes.

By the time the opening goal arrived, there was an inevitability about it, Aidy White making up for not connecting his head with an earlier McCormack cross by looking up and laying the ball off to Snoddy to stroke the ball under the Jason Steele from 15 yards. Within 10 minutes the advantaged was doubled, Becchio finishing off a series of one-twos with McCormack (an honourable mention should also be given to Justin Hoyte) by slotting into an empty goal.

In truth, after that, Leeds never looked like surrendering the advantage. The only real moment of concern in the first half was a dangerous inswinging corner that Paul Robinson dealt with, his stooping header, diverting it from its goalward path. It formed part of a very sound debut by Robinson; I have the feeling he’s a player whose philosophy the fans will quickly warm to: if there’s a ball to be won he’ll win it, if there’s a man to be completely wiped out in the process, then that’s a just a bonus!

The second half was a similarly comfortable experience, an injury time fumble by Lonergan the closest the home side came; Barry Robson’s late red card reflecting the frustration amongst the home support. In contrast Leeds remained a constant threat breaking forward, only poor decision making at times denying us a larger winning margin. Throughout the half, McCormack was a joy to watch, his movement and ability to turn defenders inside out a promising sign with the run in upon us. 

In a matter of weeks, Warnock appears to be achieving the inconceivable; Brown heralded from all quarters, Darren O’Dea’s name bellowed out in tribute, Becchio winning headers…I even went 90 minutes without swearing at Paul Connolly. As the game drew towards its conclusion, he just stood confidently in the technical, arms behind his back, while his opposite number, Tony Mowbray desperately tried to organise his side; the vociferous tribute from the stands, an affirmation of his day’s work.

Make no mistake, Warnock is on the right path and he knows it. He’s also excited by it; the final whistle celebrations were crowned by his shaken fist salute towards the travelling faithful. Only one question remains; can he achieve the improbable this season, or will we have to wait until next? Experience dictates that Leeds fans would do well to  err on the side of pessimism, but after listening to an excitable and loquacious Warnock share his post-match thoughts, nagging pangs of optimism are just starting to hit home.

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