Joe Nicholson's verdict: Sheffield Wednesday thumping highlighted a big Middlesbrough concern
Middlesbrough’s frailties were clear for all to see, not just for the 22,075 inside the Riverside Stadium but for the rest of the Championship as well.
“I looked at Middlesbrough and just felt there was a vulnerability on crosses,” said Sheffield Wednesday manager Garry Monk after his side’s convincing 4-1 win over the Teessiders.
He was right. Three of the Owls’ goals came from deliveries into penalty area, two from set-plays, as Boro’s backline creaked and cracked.
Jonathan Woodgate admitted afterwards he expected Wednesday to play with two strikers in the shape of Steven Fletcher and Atdhe Nuhiu, yet Boro failed to deal with their aerial prowess during a first-half horror show.
As the scoreline suggests, Boro were second best all over the pitch. Even in midfield, where the visitors had a numerical disadvantage, it was Wednesday’s Barry Bannan who controlled the tempo with regular guile and finesse.
Monk has inherited a decent squad at Hillsborough and found the right balance against his former club at the Riverside.
Wednesday continuously utilised their pace out wide and were robust at the back. Boro, meanwhile, looked like a group of individuals, regularly at sixes and sevens as the visitors ran riot.
Here we saw the magnitude of Woodgate’s first managerial task, trying to rebuild a squad with limited resources and options.
After the game, the Boro boss spoke about his substitutions, Marcus Browne, described as ‘a £200,000 from West Ham’ and ‘academy graduate’ Stephen Walker.
Even so, looking at the two line-ups before the game, there didn’t seem to be a huge gulf between them. Boro, though, underperformed significantly.
Woodgate knows it’s his responsibility to get the best out of the players at his disposal and, as a former Premier League centre-back, he should have plans to rectify the side’s aerial vulnerability.
That will also involve stopping the supply and retaining the ball better, another area which has deteriorated in recent weeks.
For all the talk of lower expectations and a season of transition, Woodgate will also be well aware that this is a results business.
Saturday’s defeat saw Boro drop to 18th in the Championship and that slide could continue if key areas aren’t addressed soon.