Short on confidence and bereft of ideas: Middlesbrough 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0 - Owls match verdict

Owls Joe Wildsmith gets a hug from Adam Reach at the final whistle
Owls Joe Wildsmith gets a hug from Adam Reach at the final whistle
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The road to Wembley is over for Wednesday.

The Owls’ hopes of reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup were swiftly dashed by a ruthlessly efficient Middlesbrough side yesterday.

Owls and Callum McManaman crash out of the FA Cup

Owls and Callum McManaman crash out of the FA Cup

Having matched their Premier League opponents in a drab, uninspiring first half, Wednesday were brushed aside after the break following goals from captain Grant Leadbitter, Alvaro Negredo and lively forward Marten de Roon.

It was a forgettable afternoon and a disappointing performance by the Owls, who have gone three matches without a win.

More than 3,200 Owls fans travelled to Teeside but Carlos Carvalhal’s charges struggled to create opportunities for the third match running. They looked like a team short on confidence and bereft of ideas in the final third and it took them 82 minutes to register a shot on target.

The supporters deserve far better than what the team are serving up right now.

Tom Lees wins the header under pressure

Tom Lees wins the header under pressure

However, as Carvalhal rightly pointed out, the final scoreline was harsh and flattered Boro.

“The game was very divided in my opinion,” he said.

But the Owls were made to pay for sloppy defensive errors.

surprising team selection

Grant Leadbitter brings down Owls Fernando Forestieri

Grant Leadbitter brings down Owls Fernando Forestieri

There can be few grumbles over Carvalhal’s team selection. It would have been easy for him to field a number of his fringe players with a tough-looking double-header on the horizon against Huddersfield Town and Brighton and Hove Albion.

But there was no prioritising the Championship over the FA Cup for Carvalhal. He named what he considered to be the strongest side available. You have to applaud Carvalhal for giving it a go and taking the much-maligned competition seriously.

Keiren Westwood and Sam Hutchinson were rested as the Owls chief shuffled his pack, making six alterations to the side who drew at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, there was still plenty of attacking quality on show for both teams.

The opening 45 minutes was a complete non-event. Boro and Wednesday cancelled each other out at a flat, subdued Riverside Stadium.

Grant Leadbitter scores direct from free kick for opening goal

Grant Leadbitter scores direct from free kick for opening goal

Middlesbrough, battling to retain their top-flight status, rarely looked capable of unlocking the Owls’ miserly defence.

Centre-back Daniel Ayala, making his first appearance since October 22, blazed over before Adama Traoré cut inside only to see his shot well blocked by the industrious Barry Bannan.

Wednesday, missing Hutchinson’s aggression and Kieran Lee’s drive, only had one chance of note, with Forestieri’s shot on the turn superbly hacked away by Ayala.

Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka: “The FA Cup is really important to us and if we had played the second half in the same way (as the first) we would have lost.

“I told them at half-time that I thought we were playing a friendly game and for me, the FA Cup is not a friendly game, but a really important game.”

key moment

Carlos Carvalhal.

Carlos Carvalhal.

Following Karanka’s half-time pep talk, the hosts were much-improved after the re-start and broke the deadlock from a set-piece. Bannan clumsily brought down de Roon and Leadbitter expertly curled in the resulting free-kick from 25 yards out.

“We didn’t get some luck and they scored the free kick for the first goal,” said Carvalhal.

Moments later, Ayala was harshly red carded after he hauled Forestieri down as the centre forward threatened to break clear. Surely all the momentum had swung Wednesday’s way?

wildsmith mistake

Any faint hopes of a comeback were all but extinguished in the 67th minute when Wildsmith, starting only his second match of the season, saw his attempted clearance charged down by Negredo into the empty net. The academy graduate dallied too long and Negredo gleefully grabbed his sixth goal in Boro colours.

There was more urgency and purpose to the Owls’ play but de Roon compounded Carvalhal’s men’s woes in added on time, firing home after Christian Stuani was denied by Wildsmith.

Carvalhal said: “We understand why we lost. We didn’t lose the game because Middlesbrough were better than us. The game was very balanced and equal so the mistakes made a big difference.”

Barry Bannan of Sheffield Wednesday tussles with Grant Leadbetter of Middlesbrough during the FA Cup match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: January 8th, 2017. Pic Jamie Tyerman/Sportimage

Barry Bannan of Sheffield Wednesday tussles with Grant Leadbetter of Middlesbrough during the FA Cup match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture date: January 8th, 2017. Pic Jamie Tyerman/Sportimage