Sheffield Wednesday match report: Middlesbrough 0 Owls 1

It has, to put it mildly, been an eventful festive period for Sheffield Wednesday.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 26th December 2018, 5:09 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 4:13 pm
Middlesbrough v Sheffield Wednesday
Middlesbrough v Sheffield Wednesday

Less than a week after the Championship club sacked manager Jos Luhukay, the Owls have claimed back-to-back league wins to move them well clear of the relegation zone.

Less than a week after the Championship club sacked manager Jos Luhukay, the Owls have claimed back-to-back league wins to move them well clear of the relegation zone.

Top midfielder Adam Reach gave Wednesday's 2,000 plus travelling supporters a belated Christmas present at The Riverside. His first half goal helped Wednesday defeat top six contenders Middlesbrough and secure their first victory on the road since October 7.

Big credit should go to caretaker boss Lee Bullen, who has made a number of big selection calls. Not only has Bullen tightened up their leaky defence but his decision to bring fans favourites Keiren Westwood and Sam Hutchinson in from the cold has proved to be inspired and lifted the mood around the place.

Hutchinson, making his first start since Brentford on August 19, played the midfield anchor role to perfection. Bannan and Reach also excelled as Wednesday triumphed on Boxing Day for the fifth year running.

With promotion specialist Steve Bruce set to succeed Luhukay as manager this week, there is hope and optimism again.

It was Boro, beaten play-off semi-finalists last term, who made all the early running.

Stewart Downing, one of two changes made by Middlesbrough chief Tony Pulis, tried his luck from just outside the penalty area but Westwood was equal to his fierce low drive.

The hosts retained possession and Westwood punched a looping cross from the right by Mo Besic before Tom Lees produced a vital clearance under pressure from Daniel Ayala as Boro continued to threaten.

Commanding Boro centre-half Aden Flint also steered a free header over the bar from a Jonny Howson corner to compound their frustrations.

Wednesday suffered a blow when Lucas Joao picked up a knock. Joao was replaced by Josh Onomah, who moved to the left flank.

The visitors grew in confidence and belief as the half progressed and Reach's 20th minute strike was a beauty.

Bannan, restored to the midfield after serving a two-match suspension for accruing 10 yellow cards, played a sumptuous pass over the top of the Middlesbrough defence and send Reach scampering clear.

Reach's expertly controlled the ball and held his nerve superbly from a narrow angle to rifle a right foot effort through Darren Randolph's legs into the back of the net.

It was Reach's seventh goal of a productive campaign and second against his old club this term.

Bullen, who dropped Onomah and Joey Pelupessy to the bench, said: "It was a great finish from Adam Reach after a fabulous ball from Barry Bannan.

"Adam makes runs like that week in, week out and 99 per cent of the time doesn't get the pass.

"But today he's taken it and it was a helluva finish."

Boro, who kicked off the afternoon in fourth position, looked short on ideas and quality in the final third. Too often their build-up play was ponderous and predictable, prompting the home faithful to chant 'attack, attack, attack,' at one stage. They were booed off at half-time.

This was a solid, hard-working, disciplined away performance by Wednesday.

With Hutchinson adding some much-needed aggression and experience to the middle of the park, Boro struggled to break down the worst defence in the division.

Bullen said: "We defended solidly from Steven Fletcher at the top, to Keiren Westwood at the back.

"The discipline, understanding and compactness was great.

"We forced them into long-range shots from outside the box and I'd fancy Keiren to deal with most of them but lucklily none of them were on target."

Pulis, who faced the Owls on Boxing Day in 2006 when he was Stoke City manager - Wednesday won 2-1, beefed up his forward line by throwing on Jordan Hugill.

There were cries of 'we have had a shot' after Paddy McNair blazed over from 25 yards just after the restart.

But Wednesday refused to wilt and Boro's direct style of play yielded few chances.

If anything, it was Bullen's side who looked more likely to add to their tally. After more lovely approach play by the visitors, Steven Fletcher almost latched on to Bannan's clever pass but the Scotland international's first touch let him down and Randolph snuffed out the danger.

Boro showed greater urgency and committed more bodies forward in the final quarter of the contest. It took a brave and vital block from Michael Hector to deflect substitute James Tavernier's strike over the ball while Keiren Westwood also made two routine stops to foil Daniel Ayala and Tavernier as Boro piled on the pressure.

The closest Boro came to grabbing a late equaliser was through substitute Lewis Wing, who drilled a shot narrowly wide after a lovely one-two between him and Mo Besic.

"The first 10 minutes were really tough but after that we were absolutely splendid," said Bullen. "We deserved to go in front and played some really good football and had to be very, very dogged.

"Keiren Westwood didn't really have a save to make."

A big roar from the away end greeted the final whistle.

Two matches, six points, two clean sheets. After a difficult first half of the campaign, things finally look on the up for Wednesday.

 

*Middlesbrough: Randolph; McNair, Ayala, Flint, Fry (Hugill HT), Friend; Clayton (Tavernier 68); Howson (Wing 78), Besic, Downing; Assombalonga. Substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Braithwaite, Saville, Walker.

*Owls: Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Hector, Fox; Bannan, Hutchinson (Pelupessy 73), Reach; Matias, Joao (Onomah 14, Boyd 66), Fletcher. Substitutes: Dawson, Baker, Thorniley, Nuhiu.

*Attendance: 30,341.

*Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)

*Star man: Barry Bannan