SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY laid the ghost of the Riverside past in emphatic fashion with a stunning show on Teesside - inspired by two-goal Atdhe Nuhiu.
The former Austrian U21 striker proved a thorn in the harrassed Boro backline all game as the Owls claimed their second successive win on the road in the Championship style in majestic fashion en route to their first-ever victory at the Riverside.
In the process, the vistors secured their first win on Teesside in ten attempts since New Year’s Day when they triumphed 2-0 at the old Ayresome Park.
The margin of victory in no way flattered Stuart Gray’s side, who bossed proceedings against hosts who turned in a dire performance.
Nuhiu (2) and Stevie May, who caught the eue throughout, out the Owls 3-0 up after 57 minutes and while a pair of Grant Leadbitter penalties, the second in the second minute of stoppage-time, threatened an unlikely if dramatic comeback, the visitors deserved the spoils.
Owls boss Gray said: “Considering it took us so long to win last season, it is a great start.
“We scored three great goals, hit the post a couple of times and looked a very good side. I am pleased for the boys; it was a great win.
“The team spirit in the camp is fantastic. We have beaten Brighton and Middlesbrough away and were unlucky to concede a last-minute goal against Millwall (during Tuesday’s 1-1 draw).”
Boro boss Aitor Karanka, meanwhile, was at a loss to explain Boro’s performance, which he termed as the “worst” of his tenure so far.
He said: “It is very difficult to explain. I prefer to keep calm now and analyse the game when I arrive home because it is difficult to explain what happened.
“But the positive is that we still had a chance to draw it at the end despite conceding three goals from set-pieces and playing our worst game since I arrived here.
“I don’t know if some of my players think they are untouchable but it is disappointing the way some played.”
Karanka pledged to make changes with his side’s fixture schedule in mind and made three changes from the side who triumphed at Bolton in midweek with Daniel Ayala, Dean Whitehead and Adam Reach coming in for Seb Hines, Adam Clayton and Emilio Nsue, who reverted to the bench.
For Wednesday, Sam Hutchinson failed to win his fitness battle to feature after going off with back trouble in the second half of the draw with Millwall, with Giles Coke starting in the engine room.
Without a win at the Riverside since Boro moved there in August 1995, the Owls fans would have been forgiven for not exactly relishing their trip north to Teesside.
But in the event, the visitors produced an excellent first period in which they were full value for their interval lead in an organised, proficient showing in which they produced some nice football along the way.
In contrast, Boro produced a laboured first-half showing with dangermen Lee Tomlin and Albert Adomah in particular having a quiet time of it, while three-goal Kike was comfortably kept in check by the Owls rearguard.
Their main semblance of threat was in the shape of Reach and George Friend down the left, but by and large, the Owls coped well with the limited incursions Boro made upon their goal.
The Owls opener arrived just six minutes in and it was laid on a plate courtesy of some rank-bad defending from the hosts.
Jaques Maghoma’s corner on the left was met at the far post, unmarked by Tom Lees and his header back across goal caused consternation with the muscular figure of Nuhiu getting a connection to bundle the goal into the net with the Boro rearguard and the indecisive Tomas Mejias not exactly covering themselves in glory.
Boro’s first worthwhile effort in anger saw Kike feed Reach, whose cross-shot was diverted for a corner, before their best moment of the half arrived on 15 minutes.
A free-kick down the left from set-piece expert Leadbitter arrowed towards goal, clipping the woodwork with Kieren Westwood beaten before bouncing to safety and being cleared.
That was as good as it got for the Teessiders, with Wednesday, growing in confidence as the half progressed, within inches of a second on 23 minutes.
Boro surrendered possession and Maghoma found May, whose first-time low shot seemed destined for the far corner, only for Meijas to make a sprawling save, diverting the ball onto the post.
Boro’s tempo at the other end was stop-start with the home fans growing increasingly frustrated by their fitful efforts and the Owls added to their ire with a second three minutes before the interval.
A free-kick was flicked on by Nuhiu, who Boro struggled to handle for much of the half and May seized on it in an instant with his first-time chip effortlessly flying past the exposed Mejias for his first goal in Owls’ colours to put the seal on an outstanding half from the visitors.
Jeered off at the interval after being second best, Boro had plenty to do, with Aitor Karanka electing to make an interval change and a change of shape in the process with Adam Clayton coming on for right-back Damia, booked in the first period, with the hosts recverting to a 3-5-2 formation.
Despite a bit more possession, it failed to signficantly pep up Boro, with their best moment early in the second half seeing Kike fire straight at Westwood after a rare mistake by Coke.
At the other end, Ayala got a vital touch to clear a dangerous free-kick from Chris Maguire in front of the 1,800-plus Owls ranks, in good voice throughout the afternoon.
It got better on 57 minutes with Owls fans singing in the rain when Nuhiu glanced in a terrific header to seal a fine victory.
A free-kick on the left by Maghoma, after Omeruo fouled Coke, was met by the giant striker, whose pinpoint header flew past Mejias, the cue for a few Boro fans to head for the exits.
Pretty much playing for pride, seemingly, Boro, whose tardiness in possession was glaringly obvious against well-marshalled visitors, continued to flatter to deceive.
A rare dangerous moment saw Kike’s snapshot blocked at the near post by the underemployed Westwood with Boro actually offered a lifeline of sorts 18 minutes from the time from the spot after Glenn Loovens fouled Kike.
Grant Leadbitter sent Westwood the wrong way for his third goal of the season.
Wednesday refused to be unduly ruffled and went within inches of a fourth when a cross from the impressive May was latched onto by the similarly outstanding Coke, whose header was diverted onto the post by Mejias with sub Gary Madine’s follow-up diverted in the nick of time.
A breakaway saw Madine blast over while at the other end, fellow sub Luke Williams shot at Westwood, before a handball from Loovens presented Leadbitter with his second spot-kick chance in stoppage-time.
His powerful effort flew past Westwood and he almost got on the end of a cross just before the death, but it was Wednesday’s day, deservedly.
Middlesbrough: Mejias; Damia (Clayton 46), Ayala, Omeruo, Friend; Whitehead, Leadbitter; Adomah, Tomlin (L Williams 66), Reach; Kike. Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos,, Hines, Husband, Nsue, Fewster.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Loovens, Mattock; Maguire, Semedo, Coke, Maghoma (McCabe 89); Nuhiu (Madine 71), May (Helan 81). Substitutes not used: Kirkland, Zayatte, Corry, Floro.
Attendance: 17,820 (1,848 Sheffield Wednesday fans).
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).