Leeds United 0 Middlesbrough 3

Last updated : 31 January 2004 By Footymad Previewer

They may have agreed to defer their wages, but you wouldn't have paid Leeds players in brass washers after their abject surrender to Middlesbrough.

On this evidence Leeds have no chance of avoiding relegation and any potential buyer will surely think twice about risking a sizeable investment.

This was Leeds' sixth successive defeat in League and cup combat and their eighth game without a win.

And if that wasn't bad enough, they had goalkeeper Paul Robinson sent off just before the end for a professional foul as was adjudged to have tripped substitute Michael Ricketts to give away a penalty.

It all started so promisingly when the wage deferral decision by the players prompted Leeds fans to applaud them during the pre-match kickabout. The support continued before the kick-off, but from then on it was all downhill.

A group of fans had threatened a silent protest over the players' initial reluctance to delay a proportion of their wages to help the club survive in the short term.

But the about-turn avoided a rift between the two parties and the fans responded to pleas from caretaker-manager Eddie Gray and skipper Dominic Matteo to give the team full backing.

Leeds were desperate for points but they were powerless to prevent Boro avenging defeat at The Riverside last August.

Instead, Boro's comfortable victory gave them a timely boost before the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final against Arsenal next week.

With steadier finishing they could easily have doubled their score as those old failings in front of goal surfaced again.

Both teams have found goals in short supply this season and Boro boss Steve McClaren elected to leave Ricketts and Joseph-Desire Job on the bench. Italian Massimo Maccarone led the attack, with Juninho in support.

An injury was blamed on Danny Mills' absence from Boro's defence, though sources close to the player indicated he was not keen to face Leeds, who still hold his registration. Teenager Andrew Davies stepped into the breach.

Leeds were still without Aussie striker Mark Viduka, who is visiting his seriously ill father in Australia, and they also lacked the injured David Batty and Lucas Radebe, but Michael Duberry and Matteo returned.

Torrential rain before and during the game made it difficult for the players to judge the pace of their passes but Leeds were quicker to settle, with James Milner a livewire alongside Alan Smith in the attack.

Smith was twice flagged offside after fractionally mistiming his runs, but it was Boro who went close to opening the scoring when Maccarone and Franck Queudrue opened the way for Gaizka Mendieta to try a curling shot which was deflected just wide of the far post.

Then, when Juninho was fouled by Matthew Kilgallon just outside the penalty box, the little Brazilian's free kick was just too high.

After their bright start Leeds were outwitted by the inventive Juninho and Mendieta and it needed a fine double save by Robinson to prevent Mendieta and Juninho firing Boro ahead just before the half hour.

Leeds again looked vulnerable when Boudewijn Zenden exploited generous space only for George Boateng to use his hand to control the ball close to the penalty spot.

Leeds breathed a huge sigh of relief when Zenden's powerful 25-yard shot sped just outside the far post and half time arrived with Boro failing to mark their superiority with goals.

The players needed a change of strip after their first half soaking but there was no immediate change in Boro's ascendancy and they duly took the lead in the 53rd minute.

Duberry was penalised for a foul 40 yards out and as Leeds were slow to re-group, Boro took a quick free-kick and Maccarone threaded the ball through to Zenden, who rode Duberry's challenge a few yards out and slotted the ball past the stranded Robinson.

Boro replaced the limping Davies with Stuart Parnaby who slotted in at right-back. Mark Schwarzer had been a spectator in Boro's goal as Leeds lacked a cutting edge, but Smith went close when he rose to head Jermaine Pennant's corner just outside the angle of the bar and far post.

Leeds just couldn't find any kind of rhythm and they should have fallen further behind when Zenden put Mendieta clean through, but he shot hurriedly past the far post when patience would surely have paid off.

Gray tried to liven things up by replacing midfielder Seth Johnson with striker Michael Bridges in the 67th minute, and Boro sent on Job in place of Maccarone on 74 minutes.

McClaren's decision proved inspired as Job netted Boro's second goal just three minutes after leaving the bench. Breaking away from halfway, Job drew Robinson off his line and seemed to have taken the ball too far wide, but he expertly finished off the run with an acute angled shot from eight yards.

Jody Morris took over in the Leeds midfield from the ineffective Eirik Bakke, while Boro replaced Juninho with Michael Ricketts who helped himself to Boro's third goal in controversial circumstances.

Keeper Robinson flung himself at the ball but Ricketts fell and referee Graham Poll awarded a penalty before showing Robinson the red card.

Leeds responded by taking off Milner and giving keeper Scott Carson his League debut.

His first job was to face penalty-taker Ricketts who coolly changed direction a couple of times on his run-up before shooting into the net and completing Leeds' misery.

The shot-shy Elland Road side have now scored just 19 goals in 23 games, while Boro took their modest total to 23 in the same number of matches.

Gray must be wondering what the future holds now, not only for his beloved Leeds, but also for himself with matches running out and the drop growing ever closer.

He has still not obtained the coaching qualifications he needs to stay in the job and he will have talks about his future in the next week or so with acting chairman Birch.

Man of the Match: Gareth Southgate - gave a commanding display at the heart of the Boro defence, setting his side up for a comfortable victory.