LEEDS United boss Paul Heckingbottom has branded his side's performance in Friday night's 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough as "unacceptable", and was alarmed at his players' inability to live with the host's style and tempo.

The defeat leaves Leeds six points adrift of the Sky Bet Championship play-off places, and they have now played a game more than all of the sides above them in the table.

Heckingbottom said: "It was disappointing. I thought we were second best and I'm especially disappointed with the goals.

"It's not acceptable and we'll not get to where we want to be with that performance. The way Boro played upset us and we didn't compete well enough.

"We weren't aggressive enough. I thought Boro did well and were on the front foot, but I'm more bothered about us and we just didn't cope with it.

"That's the disappointing thing. We didn't acquit ourselves well enough. Getting beat is part and parcel of football, but sometimes how you get beat is important. We were second best here, and that is what hurts.

"We got beat by the better team, and it's always tough when you know that you're second best by a margin."

Meanwhile, Tony Pulis hailed the off-field efforts that resulted in Middlesbrough return to the play-off places.

Patrick Bamford was the hat-trick hero as Boro claimed their third home win in succession, but Pulis was quick to pay tribute to the efforts of the Riverside groundstaff that meant the game was able to take place despite the sub-zero temperatures in the north-east.

Heavy snowfall throughout the week had made it unlikely that the game would take place, but a 24-hour clear-up operation meant the pitch was playable and the areas surrounding Middlesbrough's home ground were safe enough for a crowd of more than 27,000 to watch the Teessiders outplay their opponents.

Pulis said: "It was the best performance since I've been here. That's nine goals in three games now and we have played very well.

"But this win is about the whole club. People from the community and our staff turned up for two days to get the pitch and terraces cleared and get the game on.

"It has been a first-class performance from everyone - people who love this club. That certainly inspired me, and this is a can-do area. I'm pleased for the folk who worked for nothing to get this game on."

Pulis also reserved special praise for Bamford, whose first career hat-trick made it six goals in his last three games.

He said: "Patrick deserves to get the plaudits for his three. He is a tremendous talent, and needs to keep it going.

"But there were some good performances around the team. That was front-foot football, I like that. Move the ball quickly and have attempts on goal."