Leeds United 2 Middlesbrough 1

Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka shrugged off a defeat on his dug-out debut and set his sights on progress towards the play-offs

Ian Cooper Middlesbrough's Jonathan Woodgate in action against Leeds United
Middlesbrough's Jonathan Woodgate in action against Leeds United

Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka shrugged off a defeat on his dug-out debut and set his sights on progress towards the play-offs.

Jose Mourinho’s former Real Madrid assistant was upbeat despite the ten-man Teessiders losing 2-1 at Leeds in his first game in charge.

The Spaniard, named head coach last week in place of Tony Mowbray, was impressed by the second half spirit shown by his side.

Boro were a goal and a man down at the break as August transfer target Ross McCormack nodded in an almost inevitable opener for Leeds from a corner, then visiting keeper Jason Steele was shown a red card after charging out of his box to put in a heavy tackle on Dexter Blackstock.

Mustapha Carayol levelled for Boro after the break as but Leeds quickly restored their lead as Jason Pearce was allowed an easy header.

Boro had a last minute-chance to level as substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz had a shot saved in a final flurry and that offered the new boss cause for optimism.

“One part of me is sad about the score and the mistakes we made for the goals, but another part of me is happy because my team was fighting on the pitch until the last minute with one man less, ” he said.

“Of course it would be better if we had won but I want to think in a positive way. In the second half the team were fighting together along all the 3,000 supporters who came from Middlesbrough. That gives me energy to be happy.

“We were compact, we worked as team, we even made some late chances to win the game but we also made some mistakes and we were punished for them.”

He insisted that he can improve a Boro side which has not won away or kept a clean sheet since their first fixture on the road at Charlton back in August.

“We can triumph, we can work, we can build and we can go up, ” he said.

“We have to continue working, continue improving and continue to play with heart.”

Karanka said he may make changes for his first Riverside clash when Bolton visit on Saturday as he takes a close look at all his players in action.

“There may be changes for the next game, depending on what I see on the training ground, ” he explained.

Both sides traded chances in a high-tempo opening but Leeds soon started to look the more dangerous.

Boro were fortunate not to concede a penalty as Daniel Ayala’s handled a chip into the box towards the run of McCormack but referee Philip Gibbs judged the offence to be just outside the area.

McCormack – who snubbed Boro in the summer – scored the opener on 35 minutes, when he stooped to head home a corner.

Boro were dealt another blow just before the break as a poor defensive header from Ayala fell at the feet of Blackstock and keeper Steele charged out of his box to crunch into the striker with a tackle that earned a red card.

But the Teessiders equalised seven minutes after the restart as Albert Adomah’s superb through ball split Leeds’ defence wide open and Carayol darted in to stab home.

Leeds were back in front within five minutes as Pearce out-climbed former Elland Road regular Fraser Richardson to head home at the far post.

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