Leeds United survived a late Middlesbrough onslaught to earn a much needed 2-1 win in their big game with Garry Monk’s side at Elland Road.
A white hot atmosphere greeted Monk on his return to Elland Road and the home team responded with a battling display that saw them open up a two-goal lead through goals by wide players Pablo Hernandez and Ezgjan Alioski.
Middlesbrough were gifted a goal back by a contentious penalty decision, with Britt Assombalonga scoring, and laid siege to United’s goal in the closing stages, including being given eight minutes of added time to try to find an equaliser.
But Leeds held on for a crucial three points that ended their run of home defeats and the deserved result gave under pressure head coach Thomas Christiansen some much needed cheer.
Before kick-off cards handed out to fans in the East Stand spelt out the message “together” and it was a very together performance from the team. Not the best football they have played, but after recent results the players had to show more determination and desire and this they did as they hustled their opponents out of their stride.
With just the lightweight Kemar Roofe leading the line - Pierre-Michel Lasogga not even in the squad - United looked to be a bit short in attack initially with only a wild Gaetano Berardi effort that went well wide to show for their efforts in the first 20 minutes.
But they went ahead on 25 minutes when Alioski’s low cross was flicked on by Kalvin Phillips and Hernandez sneaked in at the far post to score from close range.
Middlesbrough managed just one decent effort all half as Stewart Downing’s shot from range was tipped wide by home keeper Andy Lonergan.
Chances were at a premium for the Whites as well in the opening half, although Samuel Saiz volleyed over from inside the area and Liam Cooper headed wide from a free-kick.
The second half was much more exciting affair, however, beginning with Luke Ayling getting in behind the Boro defence only to fire over from an angle.
Marcus Tavernier shot over from close range for the visitors before Leeds doubled their lead with a replica of their opening goal. Roles were reversed this time as Hernandez supplied a low cross for Alioski to covert at the far post after Roofe had initially made a great run at the visitors’ defence.
Tavernier came close with another effort for Boro as the action had suddenly hotted up and United came agonisingly close to putting the game to bed when Saiz’s low shot hit the post after Ronaldo Vieira had cleverly played him in.
The end to end action continued with Martin Braithwaite seeing a deflected shot superbly headed off the line by Ayling and Cooper getting his head to a free-kick for Leeds only to send the ball inches wide.
Downing’s low shot was tipped wide by Lonergan although it appeared to be going wide anyway and Assombalonga was not far with a well struck effort from 20 yards out.
Monk made two attacking substitutions to throw everything at United and Boro were rewarded with a goal handed to them by officials who struggled to get things right all afternoon.
Ayling was adjudged to have brought down Daniel Ayala as a corner was swung in, but he had initially been wrestled to the ground by the Middlesbrough defender so a free-kick should have been given to the home side.
The linesman said penalty, however, and Assombalonga calmly put away the spot kick after a massive delay and for the third home game in a row a goal had wrongly been given against Leeds to leave Christiansen and his staff livid on the sidelines and fans ready to riot it appeared.
Calm was eventually restored and United battened down the hatches for a big finish from Boro. Jansson, back to somewhere near his best, was immense and did well to deflect a Braithwaite effort over.
Leeds wasted several chances to break on opponents who now had three centre-forwards on the pitch and only three defenders, with Alioski blotting his copybook after his earlier excellent display, by failing to take advantage after the ball broke to him several times.
Middlesbrough were repelled, but had one last chance when Ayala headed over from a corner in the sixth minute of injury time.
That was it and the celebration at the end by the home contingent made it look like they had just reached a cup final, never mind simply earned three points.
Whites boss Christiansen was delighted with his players’ attitude and the way they bounced back.
He said: “I’m very happy, it was a very important three points.
“The players did well and followed my instructions. We knew we were up against one of the best teams in the league and we were the better team.
“The penalty was a foul before for us. It’s not an excuse. The good thing is the reaction the players had and the responsibility they took on the pitch. It proved the team is alive and is working hard for each other.
“We have been working very hard these last two weeks and the performance showed that. We have analysed a lot and there has been a good atmosphere.
“I don’t care about the pressure. I take it gladly from my players. They believe and today they made a perfect start and played well until the end.
“Everyone was good, the defence was good and we played better than them.
“The crowd supported us well and they deserved the three points as well as the team.”
Middlesbrough manager Monk said: “The game was decided on fine margins.
“I thought defensively we were quite comfortable and did enough to take a point out of the game.
“It wasn’t about me, it was about the team. It was always going to be a difficult place to come and a good atmosphere.
“I’ve great memories about this club here, but I’m with Middlesbrough now and I’ve got a job to do.”
Leeds United 2
(Hernandez 25, Alioski 55)
(Assombalonga 77, pen)
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Lonergan, Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Berardi, Alioski (Pennington 90+5), Vieira, Phillips, Saiz (O’Kane 88), Hernandez, Roofe (Ekuban 78).
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Roberts, Ayala, Gibson, Friend (Traore 65), Downing, Leadbitter (Fletcher 71), Howson, Tavernier (Johnson 57), Braithwaite, Assombalonga.
Referee: Keith Stroud