Sheffield Wednesday 1 Middlesbrough 3: Fabbrini gives Owls fans taste of what’s to come

AN exotically-named continental ‘No 10’ dominated the agenda before the game at Hillsborough – and did a good job of hogging the post-match headlines as well.
Fernando Forestieri holds the Sheffield Wednesday shirt after signing on SaturdayFernando Forestieri holds the Sheffield Wednesday shirt after signing on Saturday
Fernando Forestieri holds the Sheffield Wednesday shirt after signing on Saturday

The name of Fernando 
Forestieri was on Wednesdayites’ lips ahead of kick-off following his £3m signing from Watford, with the sharply-attired 
Argentine watching in the South Stand after penning a four-year-deal.

But it was another crackerjack creative force from Vicarage Road in Boro’s Diego Fabbrini who took centre stage once play began, providing glimpses of the prodigious code-breaking talent that the Owls will be pinning their hopes on Forestieri also delivering.

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Fabbrini has quickly endeared himself to Teessiders, netting a sumptuous strike in Boro’s home opener against Bolton.

Owls head coach Carlos CarvalhalOwls head coach Carlos Carvalhal
Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal

The silky Italian can expect further fan mail after a coolly-taken strike in the game-breaking moment midway through the second-half which helped ensure Boro ended their recent Hillsborough hoodoo with a touch of style.

For the Owls, who have seen a £10m bid for Ross McCormack rejected by Fulham and will in all likelihood add to their squad before 6pm tomorrow, the two-week international hiatus is somewhat timely.

With new signings in Forestieri and Daniel Pudil – the club’s second weekend capture from Watford after joining on a season-long loan – to integrate into the squad and a raft of other signings acclimatising to Championship life, some time at Middlewood away from the furnace is handy.

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Wednesday’s lack of cohesion in a dire first half was every bit as bad as in their last home game with Reading and despite an improved second period, largely thanks to the arrival of Atdhe Nuhiu, a lesson in Championship savvy was afforded them.

Owls' Marco Matias scores to level at 1-1Owls' Marco Matias scores to level at 1-1
Owls' Marco Matias scores to level at 1-1

It arrived when they were caught with bodies upfield from a corner on 67 minutes, three minutes after Marco Matias’s strike, which had deflected in off Ben Gibson, had cancelled out Adam Reach’s 42nd-minute opener.

Boro picked their pockets with an artful dodger in Fabbrini racing clear, with the home defence absent, before coolly steering the ball past Lewis Price.

A dereliction of defensive duty also enabled substitute Christian Stuani to seal the deal with Boro’s third four minutes from time, the Uruguayan latching onto an assist from fellow replacement David Nugent before firing clinically past Price for his fifth goal of the campaign.

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The two blows may have floored the Owls, but at least they did not die wondering in the second half when they pushed back Boro in an assertive display when they had a go unlike a wholly passive opening 45 minutes.

Second-half good, first-half not so good, was Carlos Carvalhal’s verdict afterwards. It was hard to disagree, with his usage of the word ‘soft’ to describe his side’s display in the first period also apt.

Offering his take on proceedings, Carvalhal, who offered a cryptic ‘let’s see’ when talk centred on further transfer activity, said: “The lesson we must learn from this game is that we must play from the beginning, like we played the second part. We give 45 minutes to the opponents to start the game.

“As I promised to all the Sheffield Wednesday fans, we can lose fighting a lot and dying on the pitch. But we didn’t do this in the first half. We can’t play like we did in the first half when we were very soft.”

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On the arrival of Forestieri and the impact he can bring, Carvalhal added: “He will give us what we miss. I am very happy because we have one player who will add quality very quickly to our team.

“We have nobody to play in that position behind the striker.”

While Carvalhal had plenty to ponder, Aitor Karanka was entitled to reflect on the clouds parting after a stormy seven days as Boro ended a woeful run of six defeats in seven outings at S6.

The Boro head coach came south on the back of arguably the toughest week of his tenure, with criticism ringing in his ears for his selection policy in the home loss to Bristol City and a further drama as well.

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That came on Thursday when Albert Adomah submitted a transfer request, with the unsettled winger having a bust-up with Karanka last Saturday.

While many fans scratched their heads at Boro’s starting 11 the previous weekend, the sight of Saturday’s team-sheet was more reassuring – and it was nothing to do with the Boro line-up.

The notable omission for the Owls was Atdhe Nuhiu, who had bullied Boro in previous seasons, netting four times in his last three games against them, with three of his eight goals last term coming versus the Teessiders.

The giant striker, who invariably resembles Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he faces Boro, was forced to cool his heels on the bench, only entering the fray at the start of the second period after a waste of a first half from the hosts.

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Boro cashed in and dominated the first period, with their reward coming with Reach’s close-range opener after Grant Leadbitter’s corner was not cleared.

While the Owls, with Nuhiu a customary nuisance, improved on the restart, it was Boro’s day.

Karanka said: “I was expecting Nuhiu to start because he causes us a lot of problems. I was very surprised he wasn’t in the line-up.

“He made it more difficult when he did came on in the second half but I am pleased we hit straight back after they scored.”

On his own key force in Fabbrini, he added: “He is the kind of player who makes something happen.

“He showed everybody that when he scored his goal.”