LEEDS United boss Neil Warnock needs to wrap striker Luciano Becchio in cotton wool until he brings in attacking reinforcements in the January transfer window.
The Argentinian’s double saw the Whites come from behind to beat high-flying Middlesbrough 2-1 at Elland Road and nudge his side closer to an npower Championship play-off spot.
It took Becchio’s total for the season to 17 and his equaliser just before half-time had both managers purring in admiration.
Warnock said: “Luciano’s first goal was unbelievable. It was not even a half chance but a top-quality finish.”
Boro chief Tony Mowbray said: “Becchio’s first goal was a great one. To turn and hit the ball as well as that showed great technique, but our own finishing needed to be more clinical.”
All Boro had to show for an opening half hour of dominance was a strike by Lukas Jutkiewicz which deflected in off Alan Tate.
Until then, Leeds had looked leggy after their midweek Capital One Cup battle with Chelsea. But the current United squad has an uncanny ability to keep themselves in matches despite not playing well and only a superb Jason Steele save prevented York-based Sam Byram’s header giving Leeds the lead.
As the half came to a close, the home side enjoyed some sustained possession and were rewarded with Becchio’s half volley which rattled off one post onto the other and over the line.
Both sides traded attack for attack in the second period on a heavy rain-sodden pitch but Leeds edged a close Championship contest on 73 minutes when Becchio headed in El-Hadji Diouf’s corner.
Boro will reflect on Jutkiewicz shooting against a post on the hour and intense pressure late on, but Leeds hung on to record their fifth win if six League games to move within two points of the play-offs.
Another bonus for Leeds was the arrival of striker Davide Somma from the bench for his first appearance in 19 months after recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Perhaps the forward Warnock has earmarked as his priority in January is a little closer to home than many think.
The Boro game was the last of Michael Tonge’s loan spell before his return to Stoke, but Leeds may revive interest in the midfielder when the transfer window opens.
With Ross McCormack waiting in the wings and midfielder Rodolph Austin nearing fitness, Leeds have a decent platform to build on.
Leeds: Kenny, Byram, Lees, Tate, Peltier (Pearce 77), Green (White HT), Norris, Tonge, Thomas (Somma 68), Diouf, Becchio. Subs (not used): Ashdown, Varney, Brown, McCormack.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte (Parnaby 75), Hines, Woodgate, Friend, Smallwood (Ledesma 75), McEachran, Leadbitter, McDonald (Halliday 79), Jutkiewicz, Emnes. Subs (not used): Thomson, Williams, Reach, Leutwiler.
Referee: Paul Tierney. Attendance: 25,406.