Kalvin Phillips scored in the 11th minute of stoppage time to earn Leeds United a precious point at Middlesbrough but it was Super Eagles captain John Mikel Obi, playing his third game for the home team that drew accolades for his outstanding display from the British press and his manager Tony Pulis.
Although the draw was somewhat overshadowed by the collapse of Leeds United’s Jack Clarke, the quality and outstanding influence of Mikel – who completed the ninety minutes for the first time since joining Middlesbrough – was also talked about post match by most notably The Guardian and Tony Pulis.
“It’s diappointing because they scored late on but you’ve got to be fair, first half we played really well (and) should’ve been in front coming in. Let’s move on from that.
“We played well, both Saville and Wingy were brilliant with the energy they showed, played some good football and got the wing backs forward. Mikel was obviously the best player on the pitch by a country mile. He’s a good free transfer,” said Pulis after the game.
One of UK’s respected tabloids The Guardian did not hold back in their adulation of the former Chelsea star afterwards.
“Indeed, until Clarke began feeling unwell, the afternoon was mainly about Mikel John Obi’s midfield dominance. Although Lewis Wing scored the fine goal that seemed to have revived Middlesbrough’s own automatic promotion hopes, the former Chelsea stalwart – acquired as a free agent after two years playing in China – had been the outstanding individual.
“My midfield was top drawer and Mikel the best player on the pitch by a mile,” said Tony Pulis – and Middlesbrough’s manager did not exaggerate. After an initial 10 minutes spent weathering a Leeds attacking whirlwind as powerful as the storms battering Teesside, Mikel gained control of midfield and exerted an increasing influence.
“The Nigerian very rarely forfeits possession and, with Leeds beginning to lose the ball rather cheaply, it served him and Boro extremely well. A recurring theme developed: a piece of intelligent play on Mikel’s part would preface Boro winning a set piece and, from that, only the lack of an incisive finisher would prevent them from taking the lead,” wrote Louise Taylor in detail.
The Telegraph while not dwelling much on the performance simply provided its player ratings and rated Mikel highest among all Middlesbrough players on the day with a handsome 8/10 score.
Middlesbrough (5-1-3-1): Randolph 7; Shotton 7, Ayala 7, Flint 6, Fry 5, Friend 7; Mikel 8; Wing 7 (Besic 64), Howson 6, Saville 7 (Clayton 78); Hugill 7 (Assombalonga 77).
Subs: Konstantopoulos (gk), Downing, Besic, Fletcher, van la Parra.
Saturday’s draw leaves Middlesbrough in fifth position on the log (still a Playoff spot) and seven points adrift of Championship leader Leeds United with some fifteen games more to play in the season. Boro will face Sheffield Wednesday in their next league game on Wednesday.