4:59pm Saturday 23rd November 2013
By Scott Wilson
Match Report: Leeds United 2 Middlesbrough 1
AITOR KARANKA'S Middlesbrough reign started on a losing note as ten-man Middlesbrough slipped to a 2-1 defeat at Leeds United.
Jason Steele's first-half dismissal was always going to make things difficult for the Teessiders and their new Spanish boss, with the goalkeeper bringing down Dexter Blackstock after a dreadful error from Daniel Ayala left the Leeds striker clean through.
The hosts were already ahead at that stage thanks to Ross McCormack's header, but Boro briefly threatened a revival when Mustapha Carayol converted Albert Adomah's cross at the start of the second half.
However, Jason Pearce rose above Frazer Richardson to head home five minutes later, and Karanka has now joined Steve McClaren, Gareth Southgate, Gordon Strachan and Tony Mowbray on a lengthening list of Boro manager to lose their first game in charge of the club.
Karanka made three changes for his first selection as Boro boss, recalling Jonathan Woodgate and George Friend to the back four and preferring Richardson to Rhys Williams, who only returned from international duty yesterday.
Boro lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Karanka not doing a lot to alter the tactical style adopted by both Mowbray and Mark Venus this season.
The Spaniard would have been hoping for a strong start to his reign, but instead the first 45 minutes followed a predictably depressing path.
Boro started well enough, with Jonathan Woodgate directing a 16th-minute header into the side netting from a Grant Leadbitter corner.
However, it did not take long for Leeds to begin to dominate, and Steele had to get down well to prevent a low strike from Rodolph Austin finding the net.
Leeds thought they should have had a penalty in the 21st minute, but while Ayala handled after Richardson was caught out by a long ball forward, referee Phil Gibbs adjudged the Boro defender to have been just outside the box.
That was a let off for the visitors, and there was another one two minutes later as Blackstock volleyed over the crossbar from eight yards after McCormack pulled the ball into his path.
McCormack was the best player on the pitch all afternoon, and after scoring four goals in his last Championship outing, there was a degree of inevitability when the Scotsman broke the deadlock ten minutes before the break.
Boro's defenders failed to clear a corner, Blackstock headed the ball back across goal, and McCormack stooped to head home from close range.
Boro made three attempts to sign McCormack in the summer, but Leeds turned down all three offers, the latter of which was worth around £2m. On the evidence of his performances this season, it is easy to see why.
Trailing as half-time approached, Boro just needed to survive to the interval to give Karanka a chance to tinker with things at the interval.
Instead, any chance of a revival disappeared two minutes before the break as they were reduced to ten men.
Ayala was chiefly at fault, directing a dreadful cushioned header straight to Blackstock, who was afforded a clean run on goal.
Steele raced from his line in an attempt to thwart him, but only succeeded in clattering into the striker as he headed towards the area.
The referee had no hesitation in reaching for his red card, with Steele potentially guilty of serious foul play and a professional foul all in the same incident.
Reduced to ten men, it looked like the second half would be a slog for the Teessiders, but against the run of play, they equalised within seven minutes of the restart.
Adomah broke down the right-hand side to cross, and Carayol stole ahead of his marker to flick home a fantastic first-time finish from ten yards.
It was an excellent goal, but parity was not to last long. Boro have struggled to defend crosses into the area all season, and their weakness was exposed again within five minutes of them levelling.
Lee Peltier slung over a cross from the right, and Pearce got above a weak Richardson at the back post to head home.
Karanka brought on Curtis Main in search of a second equaliser, but Boro would have fallen further behind had replacement goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler not saved from Alex Mowatt after the midfielder sprinted into the box to reach Pugh's cross.
LEEDS (4-4-2): Kenny; Lees, Zaliukas, Pearce, Peltier; Murphy (Brown 88), Mowatt, Pugh (Byram 81), Austin; McCormack, Blackstock (Smith 81).
Subs (not used): Cairns (gk), Poleon, Tonge, Varney.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-2-3-1): Steele; Richardson, Woodgate, Ayala, Friend; Smallwood (Jutkiewicz 82), Leadbitter; Adomah, Emnes (Leutwiler 44), Carayol (Main 67); Kamara.
Subs (not used): R Williams, Gibson, Whitehead, Butterfield.
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