Sheffield Wednesday boss Stuart Gray said the display was ‘a long time coming’ but he couldn’t help but pour praise on his players after an impressive 2-0 victory over promotion-chasing Middlesbrough at Hillsborough.
It took an Atdhe Nuhiu penalty early in the second half, following a dreadful opening period, to break the deadlock and soon after, Will Keane bundled in a header from close to double the advantage.
Disappointing Boro had few chances to get back into the game, though Owls defender Liam Palmer did produce an excellent blocking challenge to deny Lee Tomlin a clear shot at Keiren Westwood.
A goal then would have set up a nervy finish, but Wednesday stood firm and never really looked like conceding the three points and their second win in a week.
“It’s a long time coming,” Gray said. “We’ve had these watched two or three times now and if you stand off them, they’ll hurt you because they’ve got quality players, they’ll pick out quality passes.
“We worked all week to press and close down and force errors, which we did do. It was an open game in the first half but we probably dominated more with the ball but neither keeper was worked.
“Second half, our performance thoroughly deserved the win.
“The only way they were probably going to get in was on a counter attack. We’ve caused a good side problems by being in their faces and they couldn’t get into any rhythm.
“Every game I’ve seen them, they’ve dominated the games through the midfield and we stopped them from playing and suddenly we were on the front foot.
“We won more second balls today, we became more creative and we caused them problems.
“In our last three games we’ve got seven goals but we’ve achieved nothing and we’ve got to make sure we keep going.”
There was some controversy in the game as Boro substitute Grant Leadbitter reacted angrily after an incident involving Jose Semedo, where it is alleged the Owls midfielder spat on the opposition player.
Neither Gray nor his opposite number Aitor Karanka claimed to have seen the incident, but Leadbitter was incensed and after a scuffle in the box in the aftermath, Semedo and Tomlin were booked.
Karanka said: “Grant, I know him, he’s a very good lad, a very good player but if he (reacted) like that it’s because something happened but I can’t say what happened because I don’t know.
“He’s a strong character but he doesn’t do anything if he doesn’t receive anything bad.”
The pitch at Hillsborough shows no signs of improving, but Karanka refused to say that contributed to his side’s defeat.
“I don’t want to use the pitch as an excuse because against Blackpool the pitch was worse than today,” he said.
“We won the game at Blackpool because we decided to win the game and we have lost today because we decided to lose. I like to play on better pitches but it’s not an excuse.”