Thursday, March 22, 2018

Armchair Fan Blog - Middlesbrough (A)

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Matt Savage returns with his armchair-based view of proceedings on a matchday. This time out it's the Owls' trip to the banks of the Tees...

Middlesbrough FC v Sheffield Wednesday.
 Ground: The Riverside, Middlesbrough 
 Attendance: 15,964 (2,255 Owls)

As kick-off approached The Owls announced the emergency loan signing of Jordan Spence from Premiership side West Ham United - and the youngster goes straight into the side as the injured Lewis Buxton misses out. Another surprise for the away side was the lack of a striker in the starting line-up, instead Michail Antonio and Jermaine Johnson would be looking to speed past the Boro' defence from advanced positions in a line-up reminiscent of the successful one vs Hull City last season. The home side will look for their first win at home this season and look to build on their last two matches - both draws in what would be only their fourth league win at the Riverside in 2013. Wednesday haven't won here since 1991, could they change that?

The home side don't take long to threaten the visitors goal when barely 2 minutes into the game a dangerous Justin Hoyte cross is dealt with by Kamil Zayatte before George Friend blazes a shot wide. Two fouls in quick succession by Michail Antonio show how enthusiastic the winger/forward is in the early stages, pressing the Middlesbrough players on the ball. On the 8th minute former Everton and Coventry City forward Lukas Jutkiewicz bursts into the box but fires his shot wide of Chris Kirklands goal before a cross by Friend is cleared. Boro' have started well and are finding plenty of space on the ball but the noise from the stands is all from the away following as surprisingly, plenty of red seats are visible in the home stands. When the home defence clear a Jeremy Helan corner with ease, their counter attack ends when Friend fires his shot over the crossbar when he really should have tested the Wednesday keeper. With new signing Atdhe Nuhiu, standing at 6ft 6in - not included in the starting line-up the temptation for the long ball is gone and when they do have the ball, Wednesday are playing some neat football.
Sheffield Wednesday LB, Reda Johnson.
     A 15th minute foul by Reda Johnson on new signing Albert Adomah sees the 'Beast of Benin' receive a warning from the referee and barely a minute later Jutkiewicz misses a shot at goal. A Helan corner, well earned by debutant Jordan Spence, is flighted in high but Rhys Williams reacts first and clears as Wednesday attack with pace and determination. When Giles Coke sees his shot at goal blocked, Helan puts the ball back into the box which is well claimed by Jason Steele - from there the keeper launches a Boro' counter attack which concludes with Grant Leadbitter launching the ball over the crossbar. A 23rd minute shot by Antonio is blocked by former Arsenal man Justin Hoyte before the lively Adomah breaks to the other end and fortunately for the away side, the move breaks down. Moments later and the same player crosses into the box looking for Jutkiewicz only to see Zayatte clear under the pressure. Jermaine Johnson is fouled by Leadbitter and the former Sunderland midfielder can count himself lucky to avoid a yellow card.
     The home side start to apply the pressure and earn a corner following a Jutkiewicz shot, only for Leadbitters set-piece to come to nothing. That doesn't stop the pressure though as Leadbitter himself takes a shot in the 28th minute that Kirkland does fantastically well to keep out. When the handful of a striker that is Jutkiewicz is fouled by Wednesday captain Anthony Gardner, up steps Adomah whose shot at goal flies past the right-hand post. From that let-off The Owls attack and earn a corner which Helan delivers into the box - ultimately ending with Antonio hooking the ball into the net and giving the away side a 0-1 lead in the 34th minute, sending the travelling Owls into massive celebrations. Those celebrations are cut short however as Adomah fouls Gardner and after receiving medical attention, the Wednesday captain is stretchered off the field with his leg in splints - a worrying sight for the Owls. That leads to the 39th minute substitution which sees Miguel Llera replace Gardner. On the 42nd minute Antonio finds space again but cannot control his shot which flies over Steele's crossbar, not worrying the keeper at all before Jonathan Woodgate fouls the pacey Wednesday threat. The resulting free-kick is delivered by Helan and goes straight to the goalkeeper who tries to set another counter attack only for Leadbitter to find the in-form Kirkland denying him the equalising goal. The half ends following a Helan corner after Liam Palmer had latched on to an Antonio pull-back only for Woodgate to block his shot at goal - ultimately the corner fails to produce any rewards.

Possible torn achilles for Anthony Gardner.
 HT REVIEW: A pretty even first half by all accounts but Wednesday need to get closer to Jutkiewicz and Leadbitter, they look the most threatening for the home side. That being said, they could stand-off Friend and let him shoot all day with no worry - the defender doesn't seem to have his shooting boots on here. The fact Nuhiu isn't playing has benefited the Owls play and some neat football is being played for a change although I would like to see the striker enter the game at some point. A sausage roll and the customary pint of John Smiths sees the half-time interval ebb away before the second half gets under-way.

The home side start the second half the way they started the game, with Llera having to deal with a Mustapha Carayol cross seconds after the restart before Hoyte and Jutkiewicz also see crosses dealt with by the Owls defence. Not learning from their mistakes the visitors allow 24 year old Jutkiewicz to deliver yet another early cross into the box and Carayol has a simple finish, slotting his right-footed shot into the goal, 1-1 after 48 minutes. From a defensive point of view it was a poor goal to concede - not learning from the Burnley goals and closing down the cross early. Immediately from the off Wednesday earn themselves a corner but just like the first half, Steele comes and claims with relative ease. This then leads to a period of pressure from the home side, crosses by Leadbitter, Carayol and Friend threaten the visiting defence before Friend again fires wide and a shot by Jutkiewicz is only denied by the crossbar! A succession of Boro' corners adds to the pressure before Carayol heads wide from a Leadbitter delivery, waking up the home fans who get behind their team.
     On the hour mark J.Johnson is replaced by Jose Semedo in a bid to strengthen the defensive side of midfield that is allowing Boro' too much time and space at the moment, sacrificing an attacking threat. When Zayatte fouls Jutkiewicz moments later, Kirkland produces a brilliant save to deny a goal-bound set-piece by Leadbitter - adjusting his dive due to a deflection and claim the ball. A quick attack by Antonio sees him pass Woodgate with relative ease only for the former Real Madrid player to hold back the Wednesday man and not be penalised as the danger passes. A 68th minute foul by Friend on Coke allows Palmer to put the ball into the box, only for nobody to attack it clinically and the ball goes out for a goal kick. A double swap by Tony Mowbray sees Andrew Halliday and Marvin Emnes replace the injured Carayol and passenger Jozsef Varga before a free-kick is given for a foul by Llera on Emnes. The resulting set-piece allows Adomah to shoot at goal but the end result is harmless.
Middlesbrough danger-man Lukas Jutkiewicz.
     Atdhe Nuhi enters the game on the 76th minute in replacement for Coke - giving the Owls a different option in attack. Its Middlesbrough who attack next however and Leadbitter is guilty of firing wide after finding space for his shot. Since the introduction of Semedo and the re-shuffle, Boro's attacks have been closed down quicker and the visiting midfield looks much tighter. Into the last 10 minutes a Helan corner is cleared by former England international Woodgate which leads to another attack for the home side - ultimately ending with a shot wide by Adomah as Wednesday looked to have been caught light at the back. An 83rd minute yellow card for David Prutton, who has been somewhat of a passenger in this game, leads to an Emnes shot and miss before Antonio is flagged for offside as he looked to advance on goal. A late foul on Jutkiewicz by Semedo gives Boro' their next opportunity at goal - one they almost take full advantage of, Leadbitters set-piece headed wide by Halliday.
    As the 90th minute approaches, 7 minutes of added time is called and the volume picks up as both sets of supporters hope to roar their team on to one more goal. A Halliday cross is defended by Llera - conceding a corner that Leadbitter wastes. From that corner Nuhiu breaks for the Owls, carrying the ball up-field before Antonio gets a good chance in at goal, only to side-foot his shot straight at Steele, this is where Wednesday are crying out for an out-and -out striker. As the clock ticks down Helan cuts inside his man and his deflected shot gets pulled back for an offside flag against the advancing Palmer with Wednesday pushing for their second goal. A cheap foul on Emnes by R.Johnson gives Boro' a late chance to snatch all 3 points but Leadbitter sees his set-piece end with yet another wayward strike by Friend before the referee blows his whistle for the final time. 

Statistics: (home / away)
Shots: 22 / 6
On target: 6 / 2
Corners: 8 / 8
Fouls: 5 / 10
Possession:  58% / 42%
Middlesbrough's shot-happy defender, George Friend.
FT REVIEW: The shuffle in the second half was needed and whilst its never nice to sacrifice an attacking player for a defensive player, we have to keep in mind we were away from home and playing against a team that at that time, was commanding the play. The deliveries into the box by Wednesday in the first half would have benefited Nuhiu as those crosses weren't arriving when the striker was playing. In a whole a point each is a fair result - even though Boro' had so many more shots they were mostly optimistic but well wide. Onwards to the arrival of Yeovil Town to Hillsborough on the 14th!

Owls Man of the Match: Chris Kirkland / Michail Antonio

Managers reaction:
 A Middlesbrough fan perspective of SWFC fans.
Dave Jones: "I thought we shaded the first half and they shaded the second but we had two great chances near the end. We had a right go at each other at times and we were two quick side who tried to play it the right way. I can't fault my players - they looked bright and sharp and could have won it. Middlesbrough scored when we had a spell where we gave the ball away too cheaply. We might have got away with it two years ago in League One but you don't get away with it at this level." 

Tony Mowbray: "Wednesday came with a game plan to go on the counter-attack. There were times they pressed forward and that gave us space to play. It was different from Blackpool (Boro's previous home match) who banked up and got everyone behind the ball. Wednesday gave us a bit of room to play but we were far from dynamic. We need to learn how to break teams down and finish them off. We had a lot of great chances, but need to start taking them."


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