Leeds United’s season is not quite over as they have a fifth round FA Cup tie to prepare for and may yet get dragged into a relegation scrap – but there is no doubt it is in need of some urgent resuscitation.
For many fans the campaign effectively ended when they failed to make any improvements to their attack in the January transfer window at a time when the man brought in to supply the goals was out injured.
It was as if the club had given up on hopes of a late surge to get into the play-offs.
That feeling was added to when the lack of a fit and firing striker was clearly evident in the 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest and there will not be many supporters going to Elland Road filled with confidence for the next game against Middlesbrough on Monday evening.
While head coach Steve Evans quite rightly said that some of his team’s play had been an improvement on recent home games it was only up to the final third.
Throughout they struggled to create clear opportunities against, admittedly, one of the best organised teams in the Sky Bet Championship. Forest’s “back nine” has been making it difficult for better teams than Leeds so it was not really any surprise that they kept a clean sheet at Elland Road – where the home team has only scored 12 goals in the league all season, the lowest of any side in the division.
With little sign of an immediate improvement with Chris Wood still at least a week away from a return to action and no fresh blood up front another struggle now looks on the horizon against a Middlesbrough side with an even better defensive record than Forest.
Promotion contenders Boro have based their success on their defence which has only conceded 15 goals all season.
Like Leeds they have found it difficult to score goals at times, but did something about that in the transfer window with the acquisition of the best scorer in the Championship in the last four years, Jordan Rhodes.
He was only a substitute as Boro drew with his former club Blackburn last Saturday, but is likely to start against a Leeds side he has always done well against, back to his Huddersfield Town days.
Rhodes has already netted against the Whites this season, scoring after just six minutes in Blackburn’s 2-0 win at Elland Road in November. He also found the net at the ground last season and has bagged five goals in his last four appearances against Leeds.
Middlesbrough themselves have a less impressive record at Elland Road, having lost on their last three visits, but they will start big favourites this time as they look to fuel their promotion push.
Leeds boss Evans is aware of the threat they carry, having described them as the best team in the division, but is happy his team get a couple of extra days to prepare.
He said: “I think it’s a good thing we’re not playing Middlesbrough until Monday.
“We get a chance to freshen up, we’ve been playing Saturday, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays because of the brand of the football club. Now we get an opportunity to get on the training ground, work hard, get one or two people like Alex Mowatt back and be ready to play what I consider to be the best team in the league.”