FOR whatever reason, Middlesbrough put on a united front and were rightly applauded off the pitch at the end too.

Whether it was a near sell-out crowd, with passionate and supportive fans behind them, a desire to dig deep and show the fighting spirit sadly lacking during so many outings at the Riverside Stadium this season, or even the effects of a FA Cup exit at Newport County that sparked them back to life is something of an unknown.

Either way, as supporters walked away on Saturday afternoon, there was a general theme and vibe of “that was more like it” emanating from their mouths. And it was, as Tony Pulis’ men secured another important result against a strong promotion contender.

There will be those with a glass half empty view that Boro only had 31 per cent of the possession on home soil against Leeds, and those same fans could argue Marcelo Bielsa’s team had almost doubled the amount of shots.

Even though this was another afternoon when Middlesbrough failed to win at home – it is now a run of just two wins from their last 11 league games at the Riverside – this felt like a game with more positives to cherish than negatives to dwell on.

The blow of conceding in the 11th minute of stoppage-time to Kalvin Phillips’ header did deflate Boro camp, but given the events of the previous week then the manner of their performance for the majority of the game was worth praising.

Middlesbrough showed great togetherness in light of last Tuesday’s FA Cup exit, when plenty of social media users accused certain players of a run-in with fans at Rodney Parade. There was also the criticism of Pulis, who would undoubtedly have taken some stick had his team not turned up with an intention to impress against Leeds, after that night in his native South Wales.

But Middlesbrough, considering how preparations were hit last week when they were unable to train on Wednesday because their return flight from Cardiff meant an overnight coach journey home, impressed the Riverside crowd with their approach against a dangerous and impressive Leeds.

Pulis said: “Overall I am delighted with the players when you think that the lads didn’t turn up back home until 6.45am on Wednesday having had almost 24 hours of travelling and playing. To put a performance in like that was fantastic.

“I don’t know if affected things, I’m not a psychologist. We tired in the game but I can make all the excuses under the sun. I can say the referee (Darren England) gave a goal kick and the linesman has changed his mind (before the equaliser).”

The Riverside has been crying out for greater adventure from the men in red this season and there could be few complaints about the approach this time. The only disappointing thing was that Pulis’ team had not edged ahead before half-time.

After a bright Leeds opening conjured up nothing other than a Mateusz Klich volley that flew wide from 20 yards, Middlesbrough looked the far likelier team to find a breakthrough.

With Aden Flint and Daniel Ayala shining at the back and the excellent John Obi Mikel dictating things in front of them, wing-backs George Friend and Ryan Shotton regularly got into dangerous positions to cause Leeds problems.

George Saville and Lewis Wing were also a threat because of their tendency to have a go at goal, with goalkeeper Kiko Casilla forced into a few saves during that first 45 minutes to keep the pair at bay.

The best two chances of that half fell to Flint.

He will still be wondering this morning how he didn’t find the net with one of his two headers. The first saw him head over the crossbar from under the crossbar when he met Saville’s corner, and the second was an unmarked effort he turned wide from Shotton’s delivery.

“How Flinty doesn’t score that cross is beyond me. It looks like he only has to get contact on it and it’s a goal,” said Pulis. “Coming in at 0-0 at half-time I was disappointed because I thought we should have been in front.”

Middlesbrough carried on where they left off after the break, initially anyway, and got their reward. Wing was fed the ball on the edge of the box by Friend and the former Shildon midfielder controlled before slotting calmly beyond Casilla.

The home side kept pressing for a period after that but Leeds, who impressed all afternoon with their game-plan and movement, gained a greater foothold on proceedings and Boro had to defend until the end of the game.

Pulis said: “Second half I thought Leeds were the better team, I thought at times they really pressed us and the lads dug in having got the goal. We just needed to be a bit more composed in possession. We got a bit rash. Even before we scored, there were two or three occasions when we were breaking away and got caught.

“But I thought we were fantastic first half. Our midfield players were top drawer – Mikel was the best player on the pitch by a mile for me. Saville, Wing and Howson really, really got round Jordan Hugill and caused them all sorts of problems.”

Wing’s withdrawal with a groin problem will cause concern ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Sheffield United, and there is no doubting that his drive and spirit behind lone striker Hugill was a key factor in much of Boro’s play.

Leeds needed 11 minutes of added time to score and there was enormous sympathy after 18-year-old winger Jack Clarke – withdrawn at the break – had to be taken to hospital after feeling unwell on the Leeds bench.

He was stretchered away after seven minutes of medical attention and having been responsive at the town’s James Cook University Hospital he was allowed to return home yesterday after spending Saturday night in the care of the Leeds’ medical staff.

Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnea yesterday said: “Jack has had messages from football fans from every club you can imagine and we all really appreciate it. Jack spent the night under the supervision of the medical staff from the club and he will return home today (Sunday).

“He will undergo some more tests this week and everything is looking well, but he won’t train for the rest of the week.

“In the meantime we would like to thank everyone who has sent well wishes and once again thank Middlesbrough Football Club for all they did for Jack.”

Pulis said: “I was more concerned about Jack Clarke and I hope he is OK. The time that was added on, was the time that the referee decided and it is the same for both teams. It is set for Leeds as much as it is set for us.

“I was told straight away that someone (was ill) ... and I got the fourth official to speak to the referee. I thought it was important that the ref knew was going on. Fingers crossed everything will be OK with Jack.”

That delay arrived with ten minutes left of the game. For the remainder of the match, Boro looked like they would do enough to keep Leeds’ advances at bay.

But then, in the 101st minute, Leeds were awarded a corner, despite England initially stating it was a goal-kick, and from Liam Cooper’s header back across goal, Phillips was on hand to nod beyond Darren Randolph to claim a point.

There was clearly disappointment, having gone so close to claiming a crucial win to close the gap on the top two, but to have claimed four points from games with West Brom and Leeds ahead of the trip to Sheffield United is worth building on.

Pulis said: “It was disappointing because it is late, and when it comes late in the game it is always hard to take. We played two games and got four points either side of the cup game.’’