Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Middlesbrough Player Ratings: brilliant Besic

Mo Besic celebrates the opener –

Middlesbrough have gone top of the Championship at least temporarily thanks to a 2-1 victory at Sheffield Wednesday. Here’s our Player Ratings from the game.

Sheffield Wednesday

Cameron Dawson – there have been suggestions that Dawson’s cause in the battle for the goalkeeper’s jersey has been helped by uncertainty over Kieren Westwood’s contract situation. The young stopper might have commanded his area better from set pieces, but it would be harsh to blame him too much for either goal. 5

Liam Palmer – the long-serving right-back is not quite as quick as he used to be, which was evident in his use of the ball and difficulties in reaching passes played ahead of him. Lucky in some ways that Boro didn’t have a direct left-winger. 4
Tom Lees – the club captain’s return from injury had made a big difference for Wednesday, who at times rely on his leadership skills. This though was an off-night for the centre-back, who played one or two stray passes in the first half and was then punished for an extremely ill-judged one in the second period as Boro wrapped the game up. In Lees’ defence, playing out from the back isn’t necessarily his forte. 4
Jordan Thorniley – having been playing League Two football with Accrington Stanley just 12 months ago, Thorniley has developed superbly to play at a very demanding level. On this occasion though, he struggled in an unfamiliar centre-back role, misjudging a simple long ball in the lead-up to Boro’s opener. 4
Matt Penney – the versatile academy graduate, who celebrated a new contract this month and has won the hearts of fans, due to his youthful exuberance and willing to influence proceedings in different phases of play. His attitude here certainly couldn’t be questioned, but there were perhaps one or two moments when his decision making in possession was not as quick as it might have been – sometimes he hesitated to attack the flank – but that will come with maturity. 5

Michael Hector – the loanee has a presence about him and can be controlled in possession, which might be partly why Jos Luhukay deployed him in a holding role. It didn’t quite work here though, as there were one or two occasions when he slipped at a key moment to give Boro a free run at the centre-backs in transition. One might ask why, at 26, Hector is still contracted to an elite club like Chelsea when he has not yet proved he is too good for the Championship. 4
Joey Pelupessy – the Dutchman is a very intelligent midfielder; he didn’t rush to engage with the ball early but rather looked to wait for the right moments to intercept. Might not quite offer the same level of verve and drive as Josh Onomah, who surprisingly remained an unused substitute, but from a defensive perspective, Pelupessy was almost faultless. 6
Barry Bannan – showed in flashes of the energy and creativity we saw so often in 2015-16, including an excellent early run down the left channel leading to a cross for Reach which was the team’s best chance of the half. Equally though, the Scot appears to have matured in certain aspects of his game and he is capable of dictating the tempo from deep, sometimes even dropping between the centre-backs, such was his flexibility. One of the game’s stand-out performers. 7

Adam Reach – Reach was a direct left-winger while he was at Middlesbrough, his boyhood club; recently though his technical output has gone up another level with various stunning strikes, including one that got the Owls back in the contest late on. This year, Jos Luhukay appears to want the 25-year-old not attacking the left flank, but instead cutting inward from the right to further utilize his excellent left foot. 7
Steven Fletcher – the experienced front-man, who has played in the Premier League with Wolves and Sunderland, put in a shift but is not the most mobile in terms of getting in behind and that was at times problematic here. Fletcher did, at least, look more of a threat when Nuhiu came on as he had a partner capable of pinning another one of the three centre-backs back. 5
Lucas Joao – the forward, who bagged a brace at Bristol City before the international break, is unquestionably talented but he is a tad unpredictable, often trying to over-complicate matters in possession. The fact he can sometimes be slow to respond to losing the ball, or to track back when moved into a wide role, suggests he doesn’t quite comply with Jos Luhukay’s demands for adaptability. 4

Atdhe Nuhiu (on 62) – for the first hour, three Boro centre-backs had had to deal with only Steven Fletcher in aerial duels but once Nuhiu replaced an off-colour Joao, the threat became more diverse and thus Boro’s defensive unit stepped off. The Kosovan won five aerial duels – the joint-third most of any player on the pitch – in effectively a third of the game time. 8


Darren Randolph – the experienced goalkeeper, whose shot-stopping went untested in the first half, tended to go long from goal-kicks which wasn’t ideal given the lack of height up top. Had no chance with Reach’s strike but only faced one other effort on target. 5

Ryan Shotton – after a slight dip in form, the centre-back-turned-wing-back put in a productive performance more akin to the levels we saw from him in August. Shotton was not only solid defensively and looked to get plenty of distance on his long throws, but he also showed the aggression to steal the ball in the final third on occasions. 7

Daniel Ayala – the centre-back was superbly consistent for Middlesbrough under Aitor Karanka and, after a questionable display against his former boss, he defied his doubters here with a commanding display. Ayala posed a threat in the opposition box, although he might be slightly fortunate not to have received a red card for an elbow on Fletcher. 7
Aden Flint – the former Bristol City defender, who has scored a hat-trick in his career, posed a threat in the opposition box from set pieces and long throws like Ayala. Flint won five aerial duels throughout the 90 and certainly made his presence felt whilst showing excellent leadership qualities. 8
Dael Fry – the young defender was making his first league appearance for over a month and certainly did not look out of place, even if he wasn’t always able to combat Nuhiu and Fletcher’s physical presence in the latter stages. A pass completion ratio of 85% – far higher than that of his two counter-parts – suggests he will have few problems when, in future, he plays under a more possession-based tactician than Tony Pulis. 7
George Friend – although Friend can be an intelligent left-back who combines well with others, one might question whether his skill-set is suited to operating as a wing-back, who are often tasked with stretching the play. Seemed to struggle when he was given wide open spaces to attack, as opposed to combination play in tighter spaces. 5

Jonny Howson – the midfielder, who has captained Leeds and Norwich in his career, pressed intelligently and cleverly won free-kicks. He also showed canny movement, drifting into the right channel to overlap Downing in the lead-up to the first goal, which saw him set up Besic. 7
Adam Clayton – the experienced midfielder, a key cog in the promotion-winning side of 2015-16, broke up play and played the simple passes, even if he was slightly limited in certain aspects of his game. It could be questioned whether Boro need Clayton in the side as well as three centre-backs. 5
Muhamed Besic – Boro’s Bosnian battler has added plenty of bite. There was one occasion in the first half when he was pressing in the final third one moment, then made a cynical foul in the defensive third the next. His tenacity came to the fore at the start of the second half, when he got further up the pitch and showed the composure of a striker to slot home the opener, before teeing up Assombalonga for the second shortly after. 8

Stewart Downing – the veteran’s impressive recent form adds weight to suggestions that he is more effective on the right, when he can check inside to use his left-foot. Here, he picked out some decent crosses and was a threat from set pieces, even if in the first half, he sometimes suffered from not having any runners on the outside to diversify the threat. 7

Britt Assombalonga – the forward was brought into the side due to Martin Braithwaite’s late return from international duty with Denmark. Assombalonga did not quite offer the level of pace and power that he did before he sustained a long-term injury at Forest, but he still gave everything to the side, for whom both goals came from hassling from the striker, who was handed a simple tap-in for the second. 6

Jordan Hugill (on 79) – Boro born and bred, Hugill jumped at the opportunity to return home but hasn’t quite had the instant impact he might have hoped for; he put himself about willingly here but the support simply wasn’t there. 5
George Saville (on 85) – the Northern Irishman played twice during the international break, so it was of little surprise that he was spared a start here. Boro perhaps suffered without Downing as a creative outlet in the final few minutes. 5
Danny Batth (on 90+2) – replacing a ball-winner with a centre-back didn’t help Boro’s cause – rather, it invited pressure and Boro were fortunate to get through the injury-time goal-line scramble unscathed. 5