Football: Boro's efforts in vain

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Sheffield Wednesday. .2

Middlesbrough. . . . .3

IT was not Middlesbrough's day. They beat the best Sheffield has to offer with an excellent all-round performance - an hour of determined attacking play followed by 30 minutes of courageous defending. They even survived a late own-goal and two key players, Tommy Wright and Jamie Pollock, limping out of the game.

But, in the end, none of it mattered because the other Sheffield, United, the only side they could realistically haul out of the Premier League lifeboat, won at Nottingham Forest. At least Brian Clough will know how they are feeling at Ayresome Park today.

Although they knew their fate was effectively in the hands of others, Middlesbrough got the part of the equation they could control exactly right. They threw everything into attack and Craig Hignett and Wright constantly out-paced Wednesday's central defenders, Viv Anderson and Peter Shirtliff, who was back in the side after injury. Ten minutes after Wright pulled up with a hamstring strain his replacement, Willie Falconer, scored.

John Hendrie's deep cross evaded Chris Woods and was headed clear by Roland Nilsson, but the ball fell to Falconer, whose 20-yard half-volley flew in off a post. The second, from Pollock, was almost a replica. This time it was Shirtliff whose clearing header was inadequate and the midfielder fired home.

Wednesday were clearly missing the injured Chris Waddle, whose vision so often creates the incisive moment that rounds off their careful approach work, so Trevor Francis's decision to start the game with three strikers proved misguided. David Hirst, who was given a roving role alongside Mark Bright and Paul Warhurst but found nowhere to go, was replaced at half-time by an extra midfielder, Chris Bart-Williams. It was he who finally brought Wednesday into the match, getting the decisive touch after a goalmouth scramble.

But by then Middlesbrough had put the game beyond recall, the lively Hendrie latching on to Andy Peake's through-ball, and deftly chipping over the stranded Woods. Chris Morris set Middlesbrough hearts fluttering when he turned Bart-Williams' low cross past Andy Collett with 12 minutes left; but it was the result from the City Ground that hurt most.

Sheffield Wednesday: C Woods; R Nilsson, N Worthington, C Palmer, P Shirtliff, V Anderson, J Harkes, P Warhurst, D Hirst (C Bart-Williams, ht), M Bright, J Sheridan. Subs not used: K Pressman (gk), G Hyde. Manager: T Francis.

Middlesbrough: A Collett; C Fleming, J Phillips, C Hignett, C Morris, D Whyte, J Hendrie, J Pollock (D Marshall, 56 min), P Wilkinson, A Peake, T Wright (W Falconer, 60 min). Sub not used: B Roberts (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.

Referee: B Hill (Kettering).

Goals: Falconer (25 min, 0-1); Pollock (36 min, 0-2); Hendrie (50 min, 0-3); Bart-Williams (51 min, 1-3); Morris og (78 min, 2-3).

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