Match Analysis: Middlesbrough 0 Sheffield Wednesday 0 - Records broken with another Owls stalemate
Sheffield Wednesday's goal drought in the Championship goes on.
Their hard-earned draw at Middlesbrough means the Owls have now gone over seven and a half hours without finding the back of the net in the second-tier.
It is also the first time in Wednesday’s history they have managed a hat-trick of nil-nils away from Hillsborough in all competitions.
Manager Jos Luhukay has significantly improved Wednesday defensively since replacing Carlos Carvalhal at the helm but he has yet to solve their goalscoring problems.
Without injured trio Gary Hooper, Steven Fletcher and Fernando Forestieri, Wednesday lack a cutting edge in front of goal.
But they produced a gritty, disciplined performance to leave Teeside with a share of the spoils.
Boro rattled the woodwork twice in the second half but Wednesday’s defence, well-marshalled by Daniel Pudil, held firm.
And when the Owls needed Joe Wildsmith to come to their aid, the academy-bred starlet duly delivered, pulling off a number of excellent saves.
In the 100th league meeting between the two clubs, Luhukay rotated his squad, making six changes to his starting line-up. He handed recalls to Wildsmith, Liam Palmer, Jordan Thorniley, Jacob Butterfield, Ross Wallace and Lucas Joao.
In-form striker Atdhe Nuhiu, the scourge of Middlesbrough in recent years, dropped to the substitutes bench while Glenn Loovens and Marco Matias were notable absentees from the matchday squad.
Plenty has changed since the two clubs last me on December 23. Boro, seeking an immediate return to the Premier League, battled back from a goal down to win 2-1 and both managers departed in the space of 24 hours.
The hosts made all the early running, forcing a flurry of corners and Wildsmith had to be alert to punch away Grant Leadbitter’s dangerous delivery.
Thorniley, making only his second Owls appearances, was cautioned after cynically bringing down Adama Traore deep inside Wednesday’s half.
Traore’s pace and dribbling prowess was causing Luhukay’s side a few problems down their left hand side. The winger, who began his career with Spanish giants Barcelona, raced to the byline and whipped in a peach of a cross to the back post which Patrick Bamford met with a powerful downward header but Wildsmith produced a stunning stop to come to the Owls’ rescue.
Wednesday looked a little disjointed but gradually settled down into a rhythm and stifled Boro’s array of attacking talent.
Wallace, operating just behind Joao, squared to new signing Joey Pelupessy but his right foot curler from 25 yards out drifted well wide.
Some of the visitors approach play was pleasing on the eye and they enjoyed plenty of possession. However, both the Owls and Middlesbrough kept giving the ball away cheaply in the final third.
There was a nice round of applause for Boro old boy Rhodes when he trotted out for his warm-up.
And at a subdued Riverside Stadium, Lucas Joao forced Randolph into his action. He cut inside on to his left foot but the Boro goalkeeper was equal to his weak drive.
Ryan Shotton came within a whisker of opening the scoring in the 42nd minute but the full-back was unable to turn the ball in from close range and Wednesday scrambled the ball to safety.
There were a few boos from the home faithful after referee James Linington blew for half-time.
It was Boro who fashioned the first chance of the second period. Daniel Ayala headed Stewart Downing’s header into the danger zone and top-scorer Britt Assombalonga, who cost £15m from Nottingham Forest last summer, glanced off target.
There were times when Joao cut an isolated figure up front for Wednesday and Tony Pulis’s expensively-assembled team began to dictate proceedings. Traore continued to threaten and he jinked his way to the byline before cutting the ball back to Bamford, who turned sharply and blazed over.
The Owls rode their luck in the 64th minute when Ben Gibson’s header from Downing’s free kick clipped the post and the rebound ricocheted off Assombalonga and behind for a goal kick.
Boro piled on the pressure and Assombalonga headed straight at Wildsmith after a fine centre by George Friend. Assombalonga and Bamford both had attempts expertly kept out by Wildsmith.
Luhukay freshened up his attacking options in the final quarter of the contest, with substitute George Boyd testing the reflexes of Randolph. Pelupessy also tried his luck from long range but his ambitious strike flew over the bar.
But Wednesday had to weather a late storm as Downing volleyed inches wide and Ayala then inexplicably failed to convert Downing’s late free-kick from a couple of yards out. The defender’s header struck the crossbar.
Boro kept pressing hard for a late winner and Rudy Gestede fed Martin Braithwaite but Wildsmith brilliantly dived down low to his left to ensure the Owls stretched their unbeaten run under Luhukay to five matches.
Middlesbrough: Randolph; Shotton, Gibson, Ayala, Friend; Leadbitter, Howson (Clayton 78); Troare, Bamford (Gestede 78), Downing; Assombalonga (Braithwaite 78). Substitutes: Dimi, Fletcher, Fry, Christie.
Owls: Wildsmith; Venancio, Pudil, Thorniley; Palmer, Pelupessy, Butterfield (Boyd 65), Reach, Fox; Wallace (Nielsen 90), Joao (Nuhiu 72). Substitutes: Dawson, Rhodes, Hunt, Jones.
Attendance: 24,120, (1,261)
Referee: James Linington (Newport)
Owls Star Man: Adam Reach