FEW eyebrows will have been raised by the result from the Riverside Stadium last night as Middlesborough duly beat underdogs Wednesday and went to the top of the Championship.
But the scoreline does little justice to a respectable performance by the Owls who once against showed that they can give top-of-the-table sides something to think about.
They recovered from the jolt of an early goal against them to steady themselves and cause Boro some problems in the first half.
A flying start to the second half saw Gary Madine equalise on his return to the side, and if anything Wednesday were more than matching the home side until the title-chasers snatched a second goal in the 60th minute, then finished them off with a third.
It was a seventh win in eight games for Tony Mowbray’s side and another harsh experience for the Owls.
Boro, needing to win to go top of the table and backed by what was by their standards a bumper crowd, pressed forward at the start in an atmosphere of expectancy and caused problems with two wickedly inswinging left-side corners from Grant Leadbitter.
Wednesday produced the first real strike at goal. From a free-kick given for a foul on Gary Madine, Jay Bothroyd’s cross was headed back at the far post by Lewis Buxton, and Miguel Llera’s shot was blocked in the goalmouth.
But it was an all too familiar story for the Owls when they conceded an early goal, albeit a classy one.
Right-winger Emmanuel Ledesma played overlapping Justin Hoyte into space and the right-back guided a fine strike into the far top corner with the outside of his right foot.
The home crowd stepped up the volume, Boro passed with composure, and this was just the start that Wednesday did not want.
Chris Kirkland beat away a powerful free-kick from Leadbitter, otherwise it would have been 2-0 in the 16th minute.
The Owls interrupted the home team’s evident feeling of security, however, and typically it was Michail Antonio forcing the issue.
He cleverly beat his man to make room for a cross from the right, and a low effort by Bothroyd was saved.
This move seemed to inject confidence into the Owls; they strung passes together through midfield, and Ross Barkley was not too far away with an enterprising drive from long range. A great ball from Barkley momentarily looked like creating a goal for Antonio as he got in behind the last defender for a close-range shot. It was deflected wide off the keeper but the flag was up in any case.
Extraordinary skill from Josh McEachran took him past defenders in the box only to see Kirkland prevent an outstanding goal by stopping a low drive from the Boro midfield man.
After that bad start Wednesday had done enough by half-time to stop Boro exerting any consistent pressure, which also meant that the home crowd were more subdued.
At times there were also groans from Boro fans when their team displayed the same flaw that from which Wednesday have suffered - a wayward final ball.
The Owls’ efforts could well have been rewarded just before half-time. Antonio, always a threat, had a curling right-foot effort from the edge of the box well saved, Bothroyd’s corner was flicked on by Barkley and blocked in the goalmouth, and Llera knocked a chance wide from a few yards out.
Wednesday made two changes to the side that started Tuesday’s game against Blackpool. Madine, linked with a loan move to Swindon yesterday, was instead back in the team at the expense of Chris O’Grady. Fit-again Paul Corry regained his midfield spot from Rhys McCabe.
Tony Mowbray made five changes after a 0-0 draw at Forest followed his team’s six successive wins.
There was a minute’s silence beforehand ahead of Remembrance weekend and 250 members of the Yorkshire Regiment and their families were guests of Boro.
It was just the extra tonic that the Owls needed when they equalised three minutes after half-time.
Bothroyd delivered a quality diagonal ball into the box from the right, Antonio chested it down, and Madine sidefooted a volley inside the keeper’s right-hand post for his first league goal of the season.
For someone of Bothroy’s calibre it was a chance six minutes later when he curled a shot way off target from 20 yards after playing a one-two with Corry.
It was a cruel blow for Wednesday when, having contributed so much, they fell behind again in the 60th minute. If anything it was against the run of play.
Ledesma set up striker Scott McDonald, his effort was going in and Miller ran in to make sure and pinch the credit.
Wednesday players complained about something but the goal stood.
Again Boro were inspired by taking the lead, passing with assurance, and applying some pressure against which Wednesday defended solidly.
But the Owls were breached at a corner in the 76th minute. Sub striker Lukas Jutkiewicz had been on the field for only 10 minutes when he powered home Leadbitter’s left-side kick. The Owls now looked a beaten side.
But they did not give in, and they could have narrowed the gap in the 87th minute.
Madine found himself in the clear behind the defence, and even he may have been surprised that he was not given offside. But the flag stayed down, Steele blocked his shot, and Boro breathed again as they held onto their two goal cushion.
n BORO: Steele 7, Hoyte 7, Bikey 7, Woodgate 6 (Hines ht), Friend 6, Ledesma 7, McEachran 7, Emnes 8 (Haroun 73), Leadbitter 7, McDonald 6, Miller 7 (Jutkiewicz 66). Subs: Leutwiler, Zemmama, Bailey, Parnaby.
n OWLS: Kirkland 7, Buxton 7, Llera 7, Gardner 7, Jones 7, Semedo 7, Bothroyd 7 (J Johnson 73), Corry 7 (O’Grady 83), Barkley 7 (McCabe 83), Antonio 8, Madine 7. Subs: Davies, Taylor, Mattock, Rodri.