A DREAM start soon turned into a nightmare and although Middlesbrough made a fist of things at Elland Road, they once again paid the price for their defensive vulnerabilities on the road on a damaging afternoon littered with setbacks.

First, the goals. Five of them. Emmanuel Latte Lath scored at the start and the end of the first half but in between Boro gifted Leeds three of their own through Dan James, Crysencio Summerville and Joel Piroe. 3-2 is how it finished. From Boro’s perspective the defeat was spirited but entirely avoidable.

And it left Carrick with even more problems to contend with. His squad was already stretched because of injuries but against Ipswich next week he’ll be without Isaiah Jones, who received his fifth booking of the season in the second half at Elland Road, and Anfernee Dijksteel, who got two yellows and was sent off soon after. And to add yet another layer of concern, Paddy McNair was forced off injured in the second half. With Hayden Hackney and Dael Fry missing again here through injury, it’s getting to the stage where Boro have more players unavailable than available.

And yet despite all those problems, Boro will leave Elland Road thinking they should have picked up at least a point. They certainly had the chances and were helped by a charitable home defence. But the problem was again Boro’s own backline. That’s three away games in a row that Boro have conceded three goals. They’re giving themselves so much to do on the road. Too much.

Leeds’ attack is packed with quality but Boro didn’t help themselves. They overplayed and lacked composure.

One question coming in is whether Boro would go toe-to-toe with Leeds or opt for a repeat of their Leicester approach. The answer was provided in the opening seven minutes, which swung very quickly from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Elland Road was stunned after just three minutes when Latte Lath – again preferred to Josh Coburn up-front – cut in from the left and lashed an unstoppable drive beyond Ilan Meslier at the front post. Rather than panic the home side, the opening goal riled them and within four minutes Leeds were 2-1 up, though the quickfire double was as much about Boro’s dreadful defending as it was Leeds’ attacking excellence.

Dan Barlaser needlessly gave away possession after just 60 seconds in his home half but got away with it when Joel Piroe fired just over from the edge of the box. The midfielder – again in the team in the absence of the injured Hayden Hackney – wasn’t as fortunate the second time. He was far too casual in attempting to chip the ball away from trouble, Leeds won it back and Byram crossed for James, who despite being just 5ft6, outjumped two Boro defenders to head in the equaliser.

The second was equally as easy for Leeds. This time Gray on the right was allowed to cross and Dijksteel was caught out by Summerville, who beat the full-back to the ball and nodded in.

Encouragingly for Boro, Leeds’ defence looked as vulnerable as their own and Latte Lath should have had a hat-trick before the 20-minute mark. He fired over from inside the box just after Leeds’ second goal and then had another glorious opportunity when he was played in by Barlaser, but tried to go under Meslier, who saved well and Crooks’ rebound was deflected over. The unmarked Ivorian had yet another chance five minutes before half-time when he was picked out by Dijksteel but headed five yards wide.

By that stage Boro were 3-1 down and had lost McNair to injury after the first half jerked from poor to disastrous.

Matt Clarke replaced McNair – who’d had a difficult opening 35 minutes to say the least – but within 60 seconds of the change the substitute had conceded a penalty when, understandably rusty, he was caught out by Rutter and dragged the striker to the deck. Piroe made no mistake.

At that stage, Boro looked a team in desperate need of half-time and yet by the time the whistle had gone they had something to cling to. Latte Lath ended the half as he’d started it, by scoring, this time guiding Barlaser’s corner into the far corner with his head. Hope.

The opening stages of the second period were never going to be as frantic as the first. The best chance fell to Rutter, who should have restored the home side’s two goals lead when Ampadou split the Boro defence with one pass, but the striker dragged his shot wide.

Boro had their moments. Clarke headed over and Jones shot straight at Meslier from the edge of the box after patient build-up. They weren’t clear-cut opportunities but Boro had tightened up at the back – that Rutter chance aside – had got something of a grip in the game and were still very much in with a chance of taking something back to Teesside.

But their task was made all the more difficult when Dijksteel saw red just after the hour mark. Jones was forced back to right-back and Leeds sensed an opportunity to finally put the game to bed.

Carrick turned to his bench, introducing Josh Coburn and Sammy Silvera. And Silvera so nearly drew Boro level. After a brilliant counter, Jones found the winger inside the boss, whose cross was aimed at Coburn but deflected off a Leeds defender and rattled back off the post. The bouncing ball landed at the feet of Rogers but his rebound was then blocked by a lunging Leeds defender.

That was Boro’s last chance and it was Leeds who went closest late on, with ex-Boro striker Patrick Bamford coming off the bench and forcing a fine save from Dieng, who also kept out Piroe on the rebound.