Sheffield Wednesday verdict: Owls 1 Middlesbrough 3 and work still to do

Wednesday fall behind. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Wednesday fall behind. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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If evidence was needed that the new Sheffield Wednesday remain a major work in progress, this match presented it as clear as day.

Against a very good Middlesbrough side yet to fully hit their stride this season, Wednesday turned up for only 45 minutes and looked so off the pace in the other that it was hard not to worry.

They were rather fortunate to find themselves only a goal down at half-time, with Adam Reach’s close-range strike all Boro had to show from a dominant first half.

And after the break they were twice undone on the counter-attack, never more ruthlessly than when Diego Fabbrini overturned Marco Matias’ equaliser after the Owls were caught pushing too hard to go ahead themselves.

By the time Christian Stuani added a third, the outcome was academic, Middlesbrough’s Hillsborough hoodoo so easily ended that their impressive travelling band must have wondered what the fuss was about.

It was a day that began so positively with the double acquisition from Watford of full-back Daniel Pudil and forward Fernando Forestieri.

Marco Matias levels

Marco Matias levels

The merits of the international break will continue to be debated but for Carlos Carvalhal the next fortnight is timely as he attempts to craft his growing list of individuals into a cohesive unit.

The Wednesday defence started shakily and got worse from there, putting themselves under pressure with careless and needless passing that invited Middlesbrough on.

But the real determining factor in Boro’s control of the first half was their midfield dominance which Wednesday looked incapable of breaking, despite matching up the visitors’ 4-2-3-1 system.

Wednesday were so easily crowded out as they attempted to play through the middle, losing possession cheaply. And when deep-lying duo Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter in particular collected the ball, they were presented with acres of space in which to start an attack for their side.

The Owls celebrate

The Owls celebrate

While Boro’s wide players flourished with the service, Wednesday’s could not get into the game. Ross Wallace and Matias were both inconsequential during the opening half, especially the latter who managed to redeem himself through the equaliser.

Despite their dominance, Middlesbrough created only a handful of clear-cut chances in the first half. Lewis Price denied them with fine saves, palming away a point- blank Fabbrini header and parrying a long-range drive from Reach.

The opening goal was a poor one to concede but it had been coming. Wednesday failed to clear Leadbitter’s corner and the ball dropped in front of Reach who smashed in from seven yards.

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Disappointment at the end

Disappointment at the end

It was clear at half-time that a change of system rather than personnel was the only way Wednesday could wrestle back control of the game.

Carvalhal acted, throwing on Atdhe Nuhiu for Wallace in a shift to 4-4-2.

And it immediately delivered the desired effect with new life breathed into the Owls.

Afterwards, Boro boss Aitor Karanka admitted his surprise that Nuhiu did not start, given the problems he has given them in the past. And the big Austrian showed that, for all his critics, he probably should have.

The Owls suddenly had space in which to operate and a commanding presence in the final third. Alex Lopez - anonymous in the first half - went close with a rasping drive and a free-kick in the early stages.

The Owls were buoyant and equalised on 64 minutes with a touch of fortune. Matias found space on the edge of the box and drilled a shot which took a wicked deflection and looped over Dimitrious Konstantopoulos.

The Hillsborough crowd roared, sensing a changing tide, and the players responded, pushing forward hard.

But over-exuberance would cost them dear as they conceded two minutes later. They committed far too many men forward for a corner and remained deep in opposition territory when the initial cross was cleared.

So when substitute David Nugent released Fabbrini with a superb pass, there was nothing Wednesday could do to stop him racing forward and showing superb composure to slot past Price.

It deflated all with a Wednesday interest and gave Boro something to defend as they dropped their own attacking pace.

Tom Lees went close with a header from a corner but that was about as good as it got as the visitors proved incredibly difficult to break down again.

The third goal saw them guilty again of committing men into attack, but more understandably so. Boro broke swiftly, with Nugent flicking a fine ball into the path of Stuani who slammed into the far post from the corner of the box.

Game over. And plenty of work to be done for Carvalhal and co.

Sheffield Wednesday: Price 7, Hunt 6, Lees 7, Sasso 5, Wiggins 5, Hutchinson 6 (Semedo 21, 6), Lopez 6 (Sougou 76), Wallace 5 (Nuhiu 46, 7), Lee 6, Matias 6, Joao 6. Subs not used: Wildsmith, Palmer, Turner, McGugan.

Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos 6, Nsue 6, Ayala 7, Gibson 7, Friend 7, Clayton 7, Leadbitter 8, Downing 7 (Stuani 68, 6), Fabbrini 7 (Forshaw 84), Reach 7, Kike 6 (Nugent 59, 6). Subs not used: Majias, Stephens, Kalas, Forshaw, Woodgate.

Referee: Mark Heywood (West Yorkshire).

Attendance: 20,976.