Leeds United retained top spot in the Sky Bet Championship, but were held to a goalless draw by second-placed Middlesbrough in a competitive contest played in front of a big crowd at Elland Road.
The 35,417 crowd did not get the exciting game they craved, but could have no complaints over the result against strong opponents who lacked finesse but showed they are likely to be right up there at the end of the season.
Clear chances were hard to come by for both teams with Middlesbrough relying on set pieces for their threat and the Whites’ final ball letting them down too often.
Leeds offered the first threat as Samu Saiz sent a 20-yard shot over after Gaetano Berardi had done well to win the ball in the Middlesbrough half.
Berardi was next to have a go from distance with his shot not far wide.
The visitors’ first threat came when their former Leeds skipper Jonny Howson beat Luke Ayling to work space to get a shot in from the edge of the box, but it was matched by a good save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
From the resulting corner Daniel Ayala’s header was tipped over and from the next set piece Britt Assombalonga had a free header eight yards out only to sent the ball over the bar.
United were back on the attack when Ayling got round the back from a home corner and his header had to be cleared off the line.
Leeds saw a big shout for a penalty turned down after there appeared to be contact on Kemar Roofe as he went to get his head on a left wing cross. The ball fell for Jack Harrison, but he could only direct his header straight at Boro keeper Darren Randolph.
A minute later Harrison - in for the injured Pablo Hernandez - saw a 25-yard shot comfortably saved.
In truth, though, it was no surprise the game was goalless at half-time after there had been no lack of endeavour by both teams, but not much of a cutting edge.
At the start of the second half, Ryan Shotton’s header was comfortably saved by Peacock-Farrell and Kemar Roofe’s shot went over from distance, but the game remained tight.
There were more bookings than shots and frustration grew in the crowd at the decisions by the referee and his two assistants, particularly with how many free-kicks were given to the visitors so they could load the box.
Ayala got his head to two of the set pieces without forcing Peacock-Farrell into a save.
At the other end Roofe sent a shot wide from the edge of the box and Saiz had an effort blocked, but the visitors’ defence remained strong.
Stewart Downing looked threatening as he cut in from the right only for his shot to clear the crossbar by yards.
Late pressure from a succession of long throws, free-kicks and corners gave Boro chance to pinch the points, but they could not take it with Ayala’s header saved at close range by Peacock-Farrell being the closest they came.
Leeds had a chance right at the death with a free-kick on the edge of the box and Barry Douglas’s effort went round the wall only to be well covered by keeper Randolph. With that the referee blew for time and a point apiece was the correct result.
For Leeds there was no lack of effort with Liam Cooper and Berardi standing strong at the back and Kalvin Phillips a tower of strength in his defensive midfield role.
Head coach Marcelo Bielsa said: “It’s a fair result. It was very hard to build a game, in spite of this we had four or five actions at goal, but we also conceded the same amount of actions from set pieces mainly, throw-ins, corners.
“In order to evaluate the result I compare the domination of the game and the actions of goals we had. We can be partly satisfied.
“It’s not that we dominated the game, but what we did was good. But at the end of the day the draw was fair.”
On the season so far he added: “You cannot make any definite conclusions, we have played against different rivals.
“In today’s game the physical challenge was special. The more games we play like this one the more ready we’ll be to find solutions.
“I think we can consider what we have done so far as satisfactory. We have many things to improve.
“In games like today’s we have to improve the aerial resolution of the opponents and have to increase the creation against such a physical team.
“I’m happy with the players I have. It’s what we planned. We have enough players to face this kind of competition in the Championship.”
Leeds United 0
Friday, August 31, 2018
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell, Ayling, Berardi (Jansson 87), Cooper, Douglas, Phillips, Harrison (Dallas 90+2), Klich, Saiz, Alioski, Roofe (Bamford 90).
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Flint, Fry, Friend, Besic, Clayton, Downing, Howson, Assombalonga.
Referee: Tom Robinson