Leeds lose Robinson - and their status could be next

Leeds United 0 Middlesbrough 3
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Marching down together. Even the most stoical Leeds fans, and to their eternal credit there remain many of those, recognise that there will soon be a new refrain here. Potential saviours may well still lurk in the wings, but it is a miracle that is urgently required.

As the transfer window prepares to close on a month in which all of their more vaunted performers have been the subject of largely absurd offers from the Premiership's predatory clubs (some even suggesting, laughably, that they were making a kind of goodwill gesture), Leeds remain united, numerically anyway. However, judging by this evidence, against a team who have been scratching around the relegation area themselves and find goals as troublesome to come by as the Government do positive headlines, they are simply not equipped to maintain their élite status. Leeds were embarrassingly bereft of guile, defensively inept, and by the end, devoid of spirit.

"I don't have any excuses," their manager Eddie Gray declared. "We never created enough, nor got into the position to create enough. The players have got to accept their responsibility. They're not going to escape from the bottom of the table with performances like that."

He added: "It's a difficult situation for the players [following recent off-field events], but they have got to show the courage to get out and play. You get nothing in football if you are frightened of making mistakes."

Those with a liking for gallows humour are already debating the merits of visiting such welcoming hosts as Millwall and Cardiff City next season. And who knows, perhaps even Barnsley - should that club be promoted to the First Division - where the chairman is Peter Ridsdale, under whose stewardship Leeds' dreadful decline began.

Off the field, the pressure may be off, with the spectre of administration removed, if only for the time being. But on it the requirement for points becomes ever more desperate. Six successive defeats are stark testimony to Leeds' shortcomings. They have been deprived of Mark Viduka, away on compassionate leave and due back this week, and the injured Lucas Radebe and David Batty, but otherwise the players clad in white here yesterday are about as good as it gets. Though Gray maintained that "the quality is there" it was far from obvious.

There had been threats of a "silent protest" by the Leeds supporters following the team's initial rejection of a salary deferral (until all other options had been explored) to assist the financial state of the club. Although Gray's men had belatedly accepted the proposal on Thursday, there were still some seriously disgruntled spectators yesterday. If those who had accused the squad of "greed" and selfishness" still harboured any such sentiments, they largely kept them to themselves, though there was a degree of abuse directed at Michael Duberry, Ian Harte and Gary Kelly who, it had been reported, had been opposed to the club's salary proposal.

What Leeds could with the Middlesbrough money man, Steve Gibson. Yet that does not necessarily translate into results, and before the start, the visitors themselves were only five points above the relegation places. Boro are an unpredictable team, but yesterday they began with a sense of conviction which threatened to depress further the atmosphere in the stadium.

A burst of pace from Juninho induced panic in the home rearguard and Matthew Kilgallon brought him down with a challenge which the referee adjudged to be just outside the area. Gaizka Mendieta curled the resultant free-kick narrowly over the bar. It was Mendieta again who brought a sprawling save out of Paul Robinson, and the Leeds goalkeeper reacted smartly to deny Juninho, who was poised to convert the rebound. Just before the interval, Boudewijn Zenden came closest to scoring with a shot across Robinson which eluded the far post.

As anticipated, Danny Mills was excused from yesterday's game - Steve McClaren, the Boro manager, insisted it was his, not the player's, decision - after the defender said that he would find it difficult to play against the club who hold his registration. In other circumstances, Mills would have relished taking on Leeds in their current state. Their passing was desperately poor and in the first period both Alan Smith and James Milner, playing off him, were frustrated by the dearth of opportunities.

Before the interval, Dominic Matteo's lunge at Zenden, earning him a caution, served to epitomised the paucity of Leeds' play. McClaren was unhappy with that, and after the break he was enraged when Milner caught Andrew Davies near the touchline, an act unobserved by referee Graham Poll.

McClaren's demeanour brightened considerably a few minutes later, though, when a flowing move culminated with Massimo Maccarone unlocking the Leeds defence with a splendid reverse pass which Zenden drove low past Robinson.

Gray sent on Michael Bridges and Jody Morris and, for a period, there was a brief surge of optimism, particularly when Smith was twice only narrowly off-target. But soon the earlier trend of the game was re-established. Mendieta and Zenden were both offered opportunities to increase Boro's advantage and put Leeds out of their misery, but spurned them. However, a further Boro goal was inevitable and it arrived 13 minutes from time when substitute Joseph-Desiré Job was released by Chris Riggott and dashed unopposed from the halfway line before rounding Robinson and clipping the ball home.

Leeds were demoralised. Close to the final whistle, Job burst through again and was felled by Robinson. A penalty was the only result; so, too, under the laws, a red card for the goalkeeper. Scott Carson replaced him, but could do nothing to prevent Michael Ricketts' spot-kick. The end could not come soon enough for Gray, who conceded that the situation was: "Very difficult. The games are running out."

The creditors are satisfied - for the moment - but it is the points deficit that is now causing concern at Elland Road. It will take some doing on everyone's part to take Leeds out of the red.

Leeds United 0 Middlesbrough 3
Zenden 53, Job 77, Ricketts pen 89

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 35,970