Middlesbrough went top of the Sky Bet Championship with a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough last night.
Two goals at the start of the second half from Mo Besic and Britt Assombalonga were enough to secure all three points despite a late fightback from the hosts.
Adam Reach scored the Owls’ only goal against his old club, firing in a volley from the edge of the box to halve the deficit.
Boro’s intent to sit back, soak up any Wednesday pressure, and counter-attack was evident early on.
In a cagey opening few minutes, Stewart Downing was the first man to break either back line, crossing in from the right and forcing a good block.
Assombalonga was quick and industrious, but playing as a lone striker he had little support and failed to make an impression in the first half.
Wednesday had the space to push forward as the visitors sat deep and Barry Bannan’s quick feet won him time for a cross from the left side of the box.
His lobbed ball in was met by the on-rushing Reach, but the former Boro man saw his header deflect off the crossbar and over.
Neither side could maintain possession and half-chances fell to Bannan, whose free-kick sailed over the bar, while Daniel Ayala’s header in the box was cleared by Lucas Joao.
Reach remained the spark for the home side and his endeavour to win the ball back on the edge of the Boro area allowed him space to strike, but his shot across goal went wide.
With the Championship’s most frugal defence, having conceded just six so far this campaign, the visitors often had 10 men behind the ball and kept the Owls firmly at bay as the first half petered to a close.
The game came to life in the second period as Middlesbrough broke the deadlock just four minutes after the restart.
Downing sent Jonny Howson free down the right with a back-heel as Besic (49) held his run on the edge of the area. Howson found the Bosnia and Herzegovina midfielder who cut in on his right foot and fired a low shot past Cameron Dawson into the far corner to complete a fluent move.
Boro doubled their lead just six minutes later after a catastrophic back-pass from Tom Lees gifted the visitors a two-on-one chance.
Besic latched onto the tame return and drew Dawson out before squaring to Assombalonga, who tapped into an open net for his fifth of the season.
Stunned by the double salvo, Wednesday changed tactics and brought the tall and strong Atdhe Nuhiu on for Joao allowing for a more direct approach.
The forward held the ball up well and was a threat in the air, almost pulling one back but for Aden Flint’s outstretched boot to clear off the line.
In a true game of two halves, Wednesday scored against the run of play and clawed a way back into the game through Reach with eight minutes to go.
Bannan’s free-kick was half-cleared to the edge of the box by Ryan Shotton, but Reach kept his head over the ball to fire a volley past the rooted Randolph.
The Owls thought they had equalised from a corner in time added on. A deep corner resulted in a goalmouth scramble, but a free-kick was awarded for a foul on Randolph and Boro clung on.
Sheff Wed: Dawson, Palmer, Lees, Thorniley, Penney, Hector, Pelupessy, Bannan, Reach, Lucas Joao (Nuhiu 63), Fletcher.
Subs Not Used: Fox, Onomah, Wildsmith, Kirby, Pudil, Preston.
Booked: Bannan. Goals: Reach 82.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Ayala, Flint, Fry, Shotton, Howson, Clayton, Besic (Batth 90), Friend, Downing (Saville 85), Assombalonga (Hugill 79).
Subs Not Used: McQueen, McNair, Lonergan, Gestede.
Booked: Clayton, Ayala, Friend.
Goals: Besic 49, Assombalonga 55.
Att: 23,284 Ref: Peter Banks (Norwich).