Middlesbrough v Leeds: Beleaguered Boro could be outclassed
Relegation-threatened Middlesbrough welcome title-chasing Leeds to the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday night. Mark O'Haire expects the guests to put in a strong performance...
Middlesbrough v Leeds Wednesday February 26, 19:45 Sky Sports
Middlesbrough suffer damaging defeat
Below-par Middlesbrough have dropped back into the relegation dogfight following back-to-back defeats against the Championship's bottom two teams. Boro followed up a dismal 1-0 reverse at Luton by losing by the same scoreline at Barnsley on Saturday with Jonathan Woodgate's side failing to land a single shot on-target in both alarming away performances.
The closest the Teessiders came to scoring at Oakwell came via a deflected Lewis Wing free-kick as Middlesbrough's winless run extended to eight matches. Woodgate attempted to arrest the worrying run with four changes to his XI, giving striker Britt Assombalonga only his second start of 2020 but Boro were second-best throughout the encounter.
What was once a healthy 10-point cushion from the relegation zone has been whittled away to just three and Woodgate admitted, "We're going through a difficult time and we need experience on the pitch. The pressure was on today and that's when you need players to stand up and get on the ball, and that's what we need to get back to doing."
Leeds earn back-to-back wins
Leeds strengthened their position in the Championship's automatic promotion places, thanks to Pablo Hernandez's second-half winner against Reading on Saturday. The Spaniard struck on 57 minutes, stabbing into the top corner after his first shot had been blocked, to settle matters against a well-organised Royals defensive effort at Elland Road.
The Whites were not given an easy ride by mid-table Reading, who dug in deep and frustrated Marcelo Bielsa's men. Visiting keeper Rafael Cabral saved from Ezgjan Alioski and Liam Moore blocked Helder Costa's shot as Leeds looked to break the deadlock before the interval, and Mateusz Klich went close after half-time before Hernandez's intervention.
Reading almost snatched an equaliser late on but victory for Leeds - the side's second in succession - puts the promotion favourites five points clear of third-placed Fulham coming into the midweek card. Kalvin Phillips was withdrawn through injury but the holding midfielder confirmed he was only dealing with a dead calf and so should be available here.
Whites firm favourites at the Riverside
Middlesbrough have lost just one of their last seven games at home to Leeds (W3-D3-L1). However, Boro haven't tasted success against the Whites since Marcelo Bielsa arrived at Elland Road - the Teesiders were hammered 4-0 in the reverse fixture in November, and recorded home and away draws against United under Tony Pulis' watch last season.
Middlesbrough5.90 are winless since New Year's Day (W0-D4-L4) and failed to take top honours in each of their past four at the Riverside (W0-D3-L1) against Wigan, Blackburn, Birmingham and Derby. The hosts are actually winless in nine when welcoming teams in 14th and above (W0-D3-L6), failing to score in three when entertaining the top-four (W0-D1-L2).
Leeds1.68 have looked back to their most threatening best since Kalvin Phillips returned from suspension, although the Whites continue to cough up a few too many goalscoring opportunities to be considered a strong selection at the odds on offer. Bielsa's boys have W7-D0-L2 at the bottom-half this term, scoring at least twice in six of those triumphs.
Bielsa's boys to edge low-scoring contest
The Riverside Stadium has been the Championship's dreariest ground for goals per-game this season with supporters seeing a measly 1.88 goals on average. A huge 13/17 (76%) of those fixtures featured fewer than three goals and Under 2.5 Goals has proven a profitable formula in six of seven matches here against top-half teams under Jonathan Woodgate.
Leeds have followed suit in eight of their most recent nine outings, whilst 11/17 (65%) away days have also landed for Under 2.5 Goals backers. Just two of those road trips produced four goals or more and so supporting the Whites alongside Under 3.5 Goals holds plenty of appeal at much more appetising 2.35 quotes via Betfair Sportsbook's Same Game Multi.