Wednesday not out of trouble yet

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Football

JOHN DOUGRAY

Middlesbrough 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1

After a tedious first half that must have sent Sky television viewers to sleep, this game sprang to life after the interval with a much-improved Middlesbrough scoring a convincing win to end any lingering relegation worries but heaping problems on an uninspiring Wednesday, who are still too near the bottom of the Premiership for comfort.

Wednesday, whose need to win was greater than Middlesbrough's, made a lively start, a shade too much so on the part of John Sheridan, who was cautioned for an illegal challenge on Graham Kavanagh.

A neat build-up by Marc Degryse and David Hirst gave Guy Whittingham a distant view of goal and he was not far off the target with rasping drive.

Chris Freestone, making his first senior start after an impressive scoring run in the Middlesbrough reserves, scorned an early chance to celebrate, shooting straight at Kevin Pressman when he had the whole goal to aim at. However, when you make your Premiership debut alongside the famous Brazilian Juninho, chances are bound to come your way. The new partnership certainly looks promising.

However, with half an hour gone there had been precious little to excite the Middlesbrough supporters until Juninho found Jan Age Fjortoft just outside the penalty area. The Norwegian struck a fierce, low shot which was smartly turned around the near post by Pressman.

There was an equally impressive effort by Kavanagh that whistled narrowly past the same post with the keeper scrambling along his line this time.

Seven minutes into the second half Middlesbrough took the lead after their midfielder Robbie Mustoe injected some much-needed urgency into the game. He ran purposefully at the Wednesday defence before setting up Juninho for a shot that Pressman blocked but only into the path of Fjortoft, who scored easily.

Within a minute Wednesday had equalised, a 30-yard effort from Pembridge taking a deflection off Derek Whyte to wrongfoot the Middlesbrough keeper.

On the hour Middlesbrough made a substitution, Craig Hignett replacing the injured Kavanagh. Shortly afterwards, Middlesbrough regained the lead when Fjortoft crisply found the net from the edge of the area for his second goal while Wednesday appealed in vain for offside.

The Wednesday defence was by now looking very shaky and they conceded a third goal when a Middlesbrough corner was headed on by Fjortoft at the near post to give Freestone the opportunity to ram the ball into the net on his first Premiership start. The home fans went wild with delight.

Middlesbrough (4-3-3): Walsh; Fleming, Pearson, Vickers, Whyte; Mustoe, Kavanagh (Hignett, 61), Branco; Juninho, Freestone (Campbell, 84), Fjortoft. Substitute not used: Whelan.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-2-4): Pressman; Atherton, Newsome, Walker, Nicol (Briscoe, 85); Sheridan (Hyde, 75), Pembridge; Whittingham, Hirst (Kovacevic, 75), Degryse, Blinker.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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