The new era of Leeds United ownership began with a Christmas cracker of a match against promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough. A goal in each half from Luciano Becchio cancelled out the visitors’ opener in an enthralling, end-to-end affair.

The victory, Leeds’ fourth consecutive home league success, lifts Neil Warnock’s men up to eighth position in the Championship table and to within just two points of the play-off positions. The catalyst for the squad’s recent revival was occupying an executive box in the east stand. David Haigh and Salem Patel, on the crest of a wave following Friday’s press conference, celebrated both Becchio goals with passion.

Haigh and Patel have made their intentions clear to rebuild the relationship between the club and its fanbase, and have embarked on a welcome charm offensive that was so evidently lacking under the previous regime. Whilst warm words, twitter accounts and half-season tickets are all hospitably received, it is winning football matches which will ultimately bring back the boycotters. An attendance of 25,000 suggests progress.

David Norris, Paddy Kenny and Alan Tate returned to the starting line-up following Wednesday’s Capital One cup defeat at the hands of the European Champions. Davide Somma’s place on the bench constituted his first involvement in a league squad for over eighteen months.

Last season’s equivalent fixture, a match in which Jonny Howson and Max Gradel both saw red, was settled by a fine strike from Marvin Emnes. Tony Mowbray once again named Emnes to lead his strike force, and Boro were captained by former Leeds hero Jonathan Woodgate.

The (once again) excellent Sam Bryam came closest to opening the scoring during the first quarter of the match. His header from an El Hadji Diouf cross was well saved by Jason Steele.

Prior to Byram’s effort of goal, the visitors had started well. Emnes fired wide in the second minute and the men in red had the majority of early possession.

Leeds, however, fought their way back into the match and it was against the run of play that Warnock’s men fell behind. Middlesbrough forward Lucas Jutkiewicz saw his initial shot saved well by Kenny, but his follow-up strike took a deflection from the toe of Tate and hit the back of the net.

Back came Leeds, with Byram flashing a long range smash narrowly wide of Steele’s right hand post.

Next to try his luck was loan man Jerome Thomas, angling a low drive inches wide after quick thinking from Kenny set him through on goal.

In true end-to-end fashion, Leeds forays were interspersed with dangerous looking incursions from Boro. Mowbray’s team frequently threatened to show Elland Road exactly why they started the afternoon in third place, but were unable to carve out a good enough opportunity to take a two goal lead.

Leeds found the crucial equaliser within the window known as ‘good-time-to-score’, a.k.a. just before half time. As the clock ticked towards the interval, the ball fell to Becchio on the edge of the penalty area. His sublime half-volley found the top corner, going in off the inside of the post.

It was an atypical goal from a striker more renowned for headed efforts and simple finishes from the district of right-place-right-time. If the Argentine can produce finishes of this class on a more regular basis, then his stock will rise even further than his current indispensability to the Leeds’ front line.

Score draw at the break.

Aidan White emerged for the second half wearing full kit and replaced Paul Green. In his post-match interview, the manager would reveal that Green had been withdrawn due to illness rather than any tactical gain. White slotted into the left-back position, with Captain Lee Peltier reverting to his favoured right-back berth and Byram pushing up field to fill the Green shaped hole in midfield.

White was involved in the first ambush of the second period, as he jinked through the Boro backline before firing a shot that was saved comfortably.

The tennis-style flow of play continued, with Jutkiewicz hitting the side netting and Kenny diverting another effort onto the post. At the other end, Leeds’ attacking play was encouraging but too often ended with over hit crosses.

With the scores still level on seventy minutes, this was anybody’s match. The third goal was destined to be decisive, and it went the way of Warnock’s men. A Becchio header was tipped over the bar by Steele, and from the resulting corner the Leeds striker headed the winning goal, via a deflection off Richard Smallwood.

Leeds sat back and the away side pressed strongly, surging towards Kenny’s goal but being valiantly rebuffed by Tate and Tom Lees.

Somma, who had entered the fray shortly before Becchio’s second, showed attacking intent on the counter attack. This was the South African’s first competitive match for a long time, and his touch seemed rusty. The fact that he joined the action whilst Ross McCormack continued to warm the bench suggests that Warnock has plans to use Somma more over the Christmas period.

With five minutes remaining, Boro began to pen Leeds back and tension resonated from the home support. Emnes sent an acrobatic volley barely an inch wide, much to the agony of the three thousand strong Teesside following.

Four minutes of injury time jangled nerves further, but a late flurry of corners yielded no equaliser for Mowbray’s charges and Leeds took the points.

Many thanks to those of you who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. The closest guess came from Sean Le Beauchamp (@Le_Roque_Show) who correctly predicted a 2-1 victory and a Becchio brace. Send me your predictions for the next home match to @Matt_K_Burton.

  • derbyshirewhite

    Just let’s hope he doesn’t cost less than Berbatov when Boro come calling next month

  • Matthew

    Booya. Said we needed 35 points to be on or around the playoffs, said I hoped we’d get 35 points, said we’d beat Middlesbrough based on the performances thus far, and all true.

    We are in a FANTASTIC position now. 35 points from 23 games, 69 potential points up for grabs with our final 23 games, we only need 45 at most.

    Also well done to the lads today, great game.

    • Matthew

      75 points needed to secure playoffs based on previous league tables in the Championship, over 80 to make auto a realistic chance.

      • Irving08

        With the way things seem to be going away against teams who are, for much of the game, outplaying us, your hopes may yet be realised Mathew.

        Yesterday I came away with a pleasant feeling of surprise that we had somewhow managed to win a game in which we were often second best.

        Our physical strength and collective endeavour – and Becchio’s golden streak – is seeing us through some tough matches.

        The second half substitutions made a significant difference too.

        One can now expect White to be given a chance to make the left back role his (he went forward too with real intent and kept them guessing as to his intentions), while Pearce gave us that extra bit of combativeness in central defence. Lees is not a right back but Peltier, poor chap, looks to have had his confidence shattered by being played, for so long, out of position. Byram is just Byram – the play-anywhere do-anything footballer.

        It should not require 45 minutes of play though to discover all these things.
        I wonder, by the way, whether the players need or even want Xmas day off. Keep them hungry or on the boil, I say, especially as it is an early kick off at Notts.

        • Matthew

          We’re not winning with ease, or comfort but we’re still winning, you’re 100 percent right there. I just think with the right support realistically we can hit the playoffs. We are playing what I would call well enough at the moment, we’re not dire, we’re not amazing, we’re just good, and we’re beating teams better than us on paper.

          Hard work is paying off, and I am absolutely happy with where we are in the league, although I wish we were higher, this is good enough for me. The 2nd half of the season starts on boxing day and hopefully we’l come away with a win.

          Hope you have a good Christmas Irving. Let’s see what surprises boxing day has for us :)

          • Irving08

            Xmas day so far, great Mathew. I hope yours is/was too.

            I think we may well beat Forest – provided the team has not had too much Xmas pud or whatever. That would make me happier with just the draw we will get with luck at Hull.

            I think we are capable of 6th place, based on the teams I have seen so far (which is most of them).

  • Ian 1957

    Well done lads! We’ll soon find out what our new owners are made of. Quality signings in January and we’re heading for automatic promotion, if not it’s the play off lottery if we’re lucky. I believe GHF will give NW the funds he needs to bring quality cover into the squad and we can look forward to a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    • Irving08

      The starting bench yesterday included McCormack, White, Somma – and these three could soon be joined by Austin. Then there is Brown and Drury…..so the question is how much experienced cover does a team need ?

      No, he will probably try to sign up the three loanees (though Thomas again yesterday looked innocuous) and look for striking cover and (I hope) a George Boyd, who can do the left sided creative job if, as seems probable, Thomas does not return.

  • tim campbell

    Reports say that rickie lambert is on the new years wish list. If true its a breath of fresh air from previous transfer windows under bates

    • TimPM

      Lambert AND Becchio? Now that really would be too good to be true

      ——————

      • Irving08

        So would Becchio and the Middlesborough lad, who worked the channels as good as any striker at this level I have seen in a long time. A cheeky bid for Waghorn, who was on Leicester’s bench yesterday would be nice – he ran us pretty ragged in our recent encounter. Smashing player.

        • Ron

          McCormack is our most creative player by a mile, yet did not see any game time??? Granted Becchio is in scorching form, but Ross was first picked until his injury. I don’t want him becoming disgruntled and seeking the exit.

          • Irving08

            Warnock needed to show GFH that Somma was not ready, I guess. McCormack is vying with Diouf, who will be hard to displace.