Two Shots, Three Middlesbrough Goals - How Leeds Beat Themselves

Basically they played Bellusci.
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Patrick Gunn
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Basically they played Bellusci.

If I'm honest, there really isn't that much to say about yesterday's performance at the Riverside, nothing concrete anyway. Simply put, despite a much improved display from the game at MK Dons last week, Leeds somehow conspired to beat themselves 3-0, as Middlesbrough sat back and watched from the comfort of their own half.

In almost Football Manager-esque fashion, Boro only had to scrape together two shots on target throughout the entire game to come away with three goals as Giuseppe Bellusci marked his return to the starting lineup with a magnificent diving header midway through the first-half, diverting the ball straight past his own goalkeeper to double a lead he had gifted the home side 30 minutes earlier.

Uwe Rosler had spoken before the game about Leeds' position as underdogs, claiming that the impetus was on Boro to take the points against a side lacking their extensive top flight experience. In reality, players like David Nugent and Stewart Downing never really had to get out of 2nd gear, as the underdogs of Leeds, seemingly expecting an onslaught from the home side that never actually arrived, gifted three goals to their opponents through three individual mistakes.

The first came after two minutes, Christian Stuani bamboozling Charlie Taylor before whipping in a low cross from the right hand side of the area. Luckily for Leeds, the cross was heading towards David Nugent, surrounded by the white shirts of Gaetano Berardi and Giuseppe Bellusci.

Unluckily for Leeds, Bellusci's attempted header merely skimmed the Italian's forehead, hitting Nugent on the leg, then on the arm (yeah, handball, but you'll never see those given), before the former Leicester man crashed the ball into the ground, sending it bouncing over the head of Marco Silvestri.

If the first goal was poor, then the second was destitute, reduced to selling its body on the streets to keep food on the table for its poor little goal-children. Leeds had, impressively, managed to recover from the early set-back, looking more and more settled as the half wore on. Berardi and Botaka were linking up well on the right, Adeyemi was playing the role of Luke Murphy efficiently in the midfield, and Lewis Cook was his ever-impressive self, driving Leeds forward towards Antenucci in the striker's role.

Boro were half-hearted, not troubled too much by the lightweight Antenucci, but weren't offering much going forward themselves. George Friend's swinging cross from the left hand side was nothing to worry about, to the point where Silvestri made the rare decision to step out of his 6-yard box, ready to gather the ball under no pressure from oncoming Boro attackers. Then, with the irony of Silvestri's new-found confidence burning as hot as the sun itself, the recalled Bellusci thundered a diving header into the now-empty net, leaving his Italian compatriot dumbfounded and rooted to the spot.

The second half brought no changes in personnel, but another impressive response from Leeds. But for an horrendous offside decision, reversed after consultation with the referee, Antenucci would have pulled the score back to 2-1. As it was, however, Boro were gifted the game ten minutes before the final whistle.

Sol Bamba, who has significantly faltered in recent weeks after a magnificently strong start to the season, managed to lose his footing playing a routine pass back to Silvestri, allowing Diego Fabbrini a free run on goal, which he duly took advantage of. Bamba had twice attempted to recreate Bellusci's goalscoring prowess, forcing Silvestri into two decent saves in each half. Ultimately, he decided on allowing a more natural goalscorer in Fabbrini to take on the task of beating his own keeper.

It was a game Leeds were expected to lose, up against a strong Boro side on a fantastic run of results, but the manner of the defeat was disappointing given the way the home side had to play in order to come away with three points. All Boro had to do was sit back and watch Leeds shoot themselves in the feet... three times. No doubt that, had Bellusci and Bamba not made the mistakes they did, Boro would have been capable of ramping up their performance to a suitable level, but the simple fact is that they didn't have to.

While the inclusion of Bellusci was odd, given the recent form of Liam Cooper, the introduction of Doukara in the second half was even weirder. A player who has consistently disappointed in the past 10 months or so, Doukara looked every inch of his usual Leeds-self at the Riverside, ambling about aimlessly as the game passed him by. Whether or not Massimo Cellino had any effect on the team selection for the game is a question for those with a greater insight into the club than myself, but why Rosler would choose to introduce the out-of-form (and out-of-shape) Doukara over Sam Byram, or even place the Frenchman on the bench over the unproven Lee Erwin, is a mystery to me.

Byram's frame of mind was discussed by Rosler in the build up to Sunday's game, the Leeds coach confirming that he would speak to the player before the game to assess whether he would be featuring or not. On this evidence, it could be assumed that Byram was deemed unfit to play any part at all by Rosler, but then questions would have to be raised about why a place on the bench was occupied by a player who had made it clear he was unable to perform.

The later decision to remove Stuart Dallas for the under-utilised Luke Murphy was another odd decision, mainly as Murphy would have been in many spectator's starting line-ups. The decision to hand Jordan Botaka a debut in one of the toughest games the Championship has to offer would have been better vindicated by playing the more experienced Murphy in the midfield, but Rosler chose to revert to the young midfield trio of Adeyemi, Cook and Mowatt - the latter of which I still believe is wasted in a central midfield role.

Rosler spoke after the game of his team being too soft, not surrounding the referee and linesman after their ridiculous display in the second half. While he is correct in his assessment, and as poor as Neil Swarbrick was, the glaring problem in recent weeks has been the haphazard displays that are coming from the centre of defence. Bamba and Bellusci were poor yesterday (Bamba slightly alleviated by his towering performances earlier this season, although worrying after his MK Dons display) and overshadowed what was, in reality, a decent performance against a top side.

Rosler needs to find the strength that saw Leeds dominate Derby away from home, and instill it into every side he sends out from now on. We can't continue simply gifting the game to the opposition.

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