Middlesbrough did not have the pleasure of dislodging Newcastle from the Championship summit last night – that distinction went to the third of the relegated trio, West Bromwich Albion – but they did edge into the automatic promotion places, at least until tonight, by coming from behind to win handsomely at Hillsborough.
Shrugging off a stunning early strike by Sheffield Wednesday's Luke Varney, Gareth Southgate's side replied through Darren Purse's own goal before Jérémie Aliadière fired Middlesbrough ahead. Adam Johnson, whose finesse on the flanks gave Gareth Southgate's side an extra dimension, sealed victory with his sixth goal of the season.
Middlesbrough now face Albion at home on Saturday in what their manager termed a "six-pointer", whereas Wednesday cross the steel city to face Sheffield United on Friday. Brian Laws, the Wednesday manager, called the derby "one of our toughest games of the season", although they are unlikely to meet many sides with the qualities available to Southgate.
Johnson, in particular, merited his manager's praise as a "special talent". "Adam was outstanding," Southgate said, "but you win matches on a team performance. It was a horrific start for us, and from there you either get a foothold or get a pasting.
"We didn't win a match last season after going behind, but the team now has a belief that we're going to score. I was impressed by the character we showed, especially from what is a young defence, though by my reckoning, we still need another 80 points to get where we want to be."
Laws, called Johnson "as effective a player as you'll ever see in the Championship" and bemoaned the difficulty of tackling opponents with "a £33m wage bill". It did not help, Laws added, that his captain, Purse, scored Middlesbrough's first goal and gifted them their second with an intercepted pass, but it was "a fair result in the end".
Southgate has strengthened his squad by recruiting Sean St Ledger, Preston's Republic of Ireland defender, on a three-month loan. Early on, however, it was the impact of another loan player that gave Wednesdayites false hope. Varney, borrowed from Derby for a second time, left Seb Hines trailing on the left before unleashing a ferocious angled shot, the ball shaking the underside of the bar before crossing the line.
Middlesbrough were soon level after Purse met Johnson's cross with an ill-directed glancing header. Marvin Emnes sent Aliadière scampering through to add to his weekend brace against Ipswich by beating Grant on his near post.
Middlesbrough endured a collision between Gary O'Neil and Julio Arca, which resulted in the former playing the final half-hour with a bandaged head.
The home side's initial fluidity had long deserted them by then and Johnson's 18-yard drive, rapturously received by the large Teesside contingent, prompted a rush for the exits.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Grant; Spurr, Purse, Buxton, Beevers (Hinds 45); J Johnson, Miller (McAllister, 71), Potter, Gray (Clarke 72); Tudgay, Varney. Substitutes not used: O'Donnell (gk), Sodje, Esajas, Simek.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Coyne; McMahon (St Ledger, 83), Hines, Wheater, Grounds; O'Neil (Hoyte, 90), Williams, Arca, A Johnson; Emnes (Lita, 71), Aliadière. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Yeates, Bennett, Franks.
Referee: A Bates (Staffordshire).Reuse content