TONY Mowbray has called on his players to trust in their talent after a dismal home defeat.
A resurgent Leeds United comfortably beat his hapless Middlesbrough side at a sunny Riverside.
The visitors looked to be energised by the first signs of spring while Boro’s defence looked frozen in the depths of winter as United scored two soft goals inside the first half hour.
There were few rays of hope for the Teessiders during a disappointing 90 minutes riddled with poor passing and defensive mistakes.
To compound matters, Barry Robson was sent off in the closing stages for needlessly kicking out at Adam Clayton. The Scot will now miss the next three games, including key away trips to promotion rivals Birmingham City and West Ham United.
Fellow midfielder Kevin Thomson will also be a doubt as he was knocked unconscious after only being on the pitch less than 10 minutes.
Mowbray cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as he watched his midfield get overrun, his defence struggle to get a grip of Leeds’ strikeforce and an attack that was almost non-existent.
“We have to take it on the chin and move on to the next game,” said Mowbray, who called the referee’s decision to show Robson red ‘poor’. We are not fourth in the league for no reason. We haven’t fluked it.
“We have been a good side for most of this season but (against Leeds) we weren’t very good. We have to trust in the talent we have in the squad.”
The Leeds midfield quickly got a foothold in the game, giving Boro little time on the ball. Ross McCormack caused problems further up the park by dropping off Luciano Becchio and wingers Aidan White and Robert Snodgrass stretched the Boro back line.
And it was captain Snodgrass who opened the scoring after his fellow wide man found space on 18 minutes. The ball kindly fell to White after he jumped with Joe Bennett on the edge of the box, but he still did well to dart into the area and lay the ball off to Snodgrass.
Jason Steele looked to have the side-footed effort covered, but the ball squirmed under his body and into the net.
It was poor defending by Boro, which was repeated less than 10 minutes later for Leeds’ second.
Justin Hoyte should have cleared after Becchio tried to feed in McCormack.
The right-back had it covered but swung and completely missed the ball, leaving the Leeds playmaker free to square it to Becchio for the simplest of tap-ins.
It wasn’t until half-an-hour had gone that Boro tested Leeds keeper Andy Lonergan as a clearly frustrated Barry Robson hit a speculative effort that swerved and dipped, but was comfortably batted away.
As bad and sloppy as Boro had been in the first half, Leeds looked disciplined and dangerous. But they sat back in the second 45 minutes and the game fizzled out.
Boro suffered even more as first substitute Thomson was stretchered off after being accidently kicked in the head, and then Robson was given his marching orders.
It was sparked by Clayton bringing down the former Celtic man with an ugly tackle from behind. The referee gave a free-kick but the fiery Scot appeared to kick out as both players lay on the ground.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte, Hines, Bates, Bennett, Rhys Williams (Main 63), Bailey, Emnes, Robson, Hammill, Jutkiewicz (Thomson 63), Thomson (Ogbeche 80). Subs Not Used: Arca, McMahon. Sent Off: Robson (86).
Leeds: Lonergan, Connolly, Lees, O’Dea, Robinson, Clayton (Pugh 90), Brown, Snodgrass, McCormack (Webber 87), White, Becchio (Forssell 90). Subs Not Used: Nunez, Thompson. Booked: Connolly, Clayton. Goals: Snodgrass 18, Becchio 27.
Att: 21,301 Ref: Carl Boyeson (E Yorkshire).