Middlesbrough play-off hopes officially ended by Leeds United after loss in seven-goal thriller

Wilfried Gnonto of Leeds United scores
Wilfried Gnonto of Leeds United scores -Credit:2024 Getty Images

Middlesbrough's nine-game unbeaten run came to an end in a seven-goal thriller with Leeds United at the Riverside - with the visitors strengthening their automatic promotion hopes by moving second with the win, but not without needing a monumental effort against Boro.

In an open and dramatic first half, Crysencio Summerville and Patrick Bamford goals cancelled out Isaiah Jones' early opener. Emmanuel Latte Lath levelled things up again with his eighth goal in ten games but Wilfried Gnonto sent Leeds in 3-2 up at the break before settling the tie on the hour mark with his second and Leeds's fourth.

Perhaps fitting of the game overall, Boro created late drama when Latte Lath bagged another with five minutes remaining. But Leeds got the victory in the end, with Michael Carrick visibly upset at the final whistle having felt numerous decisions went against his side.

Carrick made two enforced changes to his Boro side as Anfernee Dijskteel replaced Luke Ayling - unavailable against his parent club. Luke Thomas was in for Lukas Engel, who missed out due to personal reasons. Highlighting Boro's lack of options, Carrick included four teenagers and two goalkeepers on his bench.

There's something about clashes between these two sides that tends to bring out some entertaining football matches. In the reverse fixture at Elland Road back in December Leeds led 3-2 at half-time. It was a mirror image of another cracker of a first half this time at the Riverside.

And it was a very similar story too, with Boro taking an early lead before quickly being pegged back for two goals. It was Jones who put Boro ahead in this one, in just the seventh minute of the game. Luke Thomas stepped up well to win possession. Finn Azaz's ball in behind was helped on by a fortunate deflection and though Latte Lath was squeezed out, Jones was alive to the loose ball to fire Boro in front.

But Leeds scored twice in quick succession to flip the game on it's head by the 18th minute. The first came from the penalty spot as Georginio Ritter beat Dijksteel too easily before the legs tangled as they broke into the box. Summerville stepped up and made no mistake, even with Seny Dieng going the right way.

Former man Bamford didn't have to do too much work to put Leeds 2-1 ahead. With too much space on Boro's right, Junior Firpo's delivery was a teasing one that caused doubt between Matt Clarke and Seny Dieng. With both waiting on the other to deal with it, Bamford simply waited for the ball to reach him, helping it goalwards off his knee.

Boro were level on the half-hour mark though, with Latte Lath rocking the Riverside once again. A wonderful individual goal saw the Ivorian come across the edge of the box to find half a yard, finishing emphatically when he did eventually see the gap.

The first half drama was not finished there though. A well-worked Leeds United move after Jonny Howson gave possession away in the middle of the pitch saw the visitors quickly work it up to the edge of Boro's box. There was controversy, with Gnonto clearly offside as the ball was played in behind Dijksteel, with the Leeds forward finishing confidently.

It was certainly an entertaining and drama-filled first 45 minutes of football in front of the Sky cameras. With very little to play for, Boiro certainly went for it and more than matched their promotion-challenging rivals, even if the openness of the game probably played into Leeds' hands.

Back out for the second half, Carrick and assistant Jonathan Woodgate looked particularly irked with Leeds out noticeably late for the second half. When the visitors finally did emerge, they were met by a chorus of boos from the raucous home fans who had cottoned onto Carrick's displeasure.

When the action did restart, it was Boro who started the second better. Leeds looked like they were content with their lead and no doubt wanting to calm things down after the frantic nature of the first half, sat in more, offering Boro the ball, but little space. The only meaningful Boro chance in the first ten minutes saw Lewis O'Brien's cross-cum-shot almost catch out Illan Meslier, who was alert to tip over his bar.

Boro have often struggled this season against low blocks. Struggling to break them down, they've also left themselves open to the counter too - and so it proved again as Leeds made it 4-2 just after the hour mark. Leeds broke well and with Dijksteel out of position and Thomas deeper than his fellow defenders playing people on, Rutter played Summerville in behind before the Leeds man produced another excellent finish.

As the game threatened to peter out and lose all momentum, Boro perhaps fittingly made a drama of the last five minutes. Just moments after Ajay Matthews came on for his debut, fellow sub Alex Gilbert clipped a long ball over the Leeds defence. Meslier half come but it was Latte Lath getting on the end of it - looping his header over the keeper and into the net.

It created an extraordinary finish to a remarkable game. Boro pushed for an equaliser despite so little to play for in the grand scheme of things. Against his former side, Howson came closest with a well-hit strike from range in what would have been quite the narrative. As it was, the drama finally came to an end with Leeds hanging on to three important points.

The defeat for Boro, meanwhile, ended a nine-game unbeaten run and officially ended their play-off aspirations - not many had much hope left anyway. You suspect Boro might have played it different tactically had they had more first-team players to choose from and something to play for.

Their open style made for an entertaining contest but ultimately played into the hands of Leeds - who showed their quality in the key moments to claim three points and move second. Boro have box-ticking games against Cardiff (away) and Watford (home) before they can start with the meaningful business which is to come in the summer.