Teesside maybe a region in waiting, but Middlesbrough are doing well enough even before the arrival of Juninho. The Brazilian, who is due today, will find his new club in fourth place in the Premiership and six points behind the leaders, Newcastle.
This is Middlesbrough's sixth successive victory and, ironically, the goal that secured it was scored by the player likely to step down when Juninho's work permit comes through, Craig Hignett. He may be the man whose feet are tapping least to the samba beat but he had sufficient disregard for the pressure on his first-team place to calmly score a penalty, which was just as well as a goal from open play became more remote as the match went on. Even the 68th- minute penalty had an element of controversy about it because ,although Lee Briscoe clearly handled the ball, Wednesday believed there had been a push on Peter Atherton by Steve Vickers earlier in the move. There was also the question of intent.
"It was certainly debatable," David Pleat, the Wednesday manager, said. "To intentionally handle you have to have eyes on the ball and he was looking away. His hand went up to protect him from a challenge from the side. Unless he is very clever I don't think it was a penalty."
It was a frustrating game all round for Wednesday, who deteriorated like the evening light. At first, prompted by Chris Waddle, they stretched the Middlesbrough back five that is as pliable as stone. Later they bounced off this rearguard. Waddle, a tired and slightly forlorn figure on the right wing at the end, epitomised their whole day.
It was Waddle who was a dominant figure of the first half. In the 13th minute his wonderfully weighted pass split Middlesbrough's defence and almost allowed Mark Bright a shot at goal. Five minutes before the interval he delivered a cross from the right which floated into Boro's six-yard box and Bright should have done better with his header.
In between Mark Pembridge had Gary Walsh diving to his right with a 30- yard free-kick while at the other end Neil Cox deceived Briscoe with a flick of his heel and then was denied only by Kevin Pressman's save.
Middlesbrough had been muted before the interval but a knee injury to Jan Age Fjortoft worked in their favour because the substitute, John Hendrie, was better suited to the quick raids launched by Nick Barmby and Hignett.
After the goal - the first this season not to be either scored or made by Barmby - Middlesbrough could use Wednesday's urgency for an equaliser. Hendrie had two chances but the closest they came to adding to their lead came after 71 minutes when Cox headed against the bar.
Andy Sinton, in his first league start of the season, made frequent inroads on the left but the final ball was not good enough and the only real worry for Middlesbrough was when the former England winger went down in the area under a challenge from Cox. Television evidence suggested the referee's decision to play on was the right one.
"We had enough possession," Pleat said, "to manoeuvre a scoring chance, but we didn't." It is becoming a familiar story for Wednesday.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-1-3-2): Pressman, Nolan, Atherton, Walker, Briscoe; Waddle; Pembridge, Hyde (Sheridan, 75), Sinton; Bright, Degryse (Whittingham, 69). Substitute not used: Ingesson.
Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Walsh, Cox, Pearson, Vickers, Whyte, Morris; Hignett, Pollock, Mustoe; Fjortoft (Hendrie, 50), Barmby. Substitutes not used: Moore, Liddle.
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).Reuse content