Middlesbrough 3-0 Sheffield United: Boro cruise to victory at the Riverside
Last Updated: 07/08/18 10:57pm
Middlesbrough proved they possess plenty of cut and thrust without Adama Traore as Sheffield United were carved up 3-0 at the Riverside.
Incisive winger Traore, absent from the squad, is reportedly poised to join Premier League newcomers Wolves - bad news for Boro fans who have seen key men Ben Gibson and Patrick Bamford sold in recent days.
Tony Pulis has been trying to bolster his ranks before Thursday's transfer deadline but the tools already at his disposal showed that Boro can be a force in the Sky Bet Championship regardless.
North-east talent Lewis Wing provided assists for Martin Braithwaite and then imposing new defensive recruit Aden Flint, with Stewart Downing chipping in with a third goal to complete the rout inside 25 minutes.
Boro would strike very early but they could have done so inside a minute had Jonny Howson not shot straight at Dean Henderson after Britt Assombalonga dummied Ryan Shotton's low cross.
Another surge forward saw Downing win a corner in the seventh minute and Newton Aycliffe-born Wing's lofted delivery skimmed Shotton's head and fell to Braithwaite, who tucked home.
Ten minutes later, the Teessiders went 2-0 up as Flint - a summer signing from Bristol City - marked his home debut with a goal by rising at the far post to head in another Wing corner.
Boro exploited width for their third goal too, Shotton whipping the ball in from the right for veteran midfielder Downing to bounce over beleaguered Blades goalkeeper Henderson.
A tactical switch helped United, who lost at home to Swansea on Saturday, avoid more punishment before the break, although captain Leon Clarke was booked for a needless challenge to sustain the visitors' misery.
Frustration persisted on the pitch for Chris Wilder's Blades, who like Boro are striving to get new players on board before the window shuts; Ipswich's Martyn Waghorn is a target for both clubs.
Chris Basham was lucky to avoid dismissal for a heavy foul on Braithwaite before Clarke headed wide from a promising position, with substitute Ben Woodburn feeding him the cross.
A poor night for Clarke continued when, set up tidily by sprightly Mark Duffy, he pinged an effort straight at Boro stopper Darren Randolph.
Wing, signed quietly from non-league Shildon last year, left the pitch to great applause from the Riverside faithful as the game entered its final 10 minutes, which Boro navigated sensibly under a barrage of speculative balls forward from the blunted Blades.
Boro may still have their shortcomings but, on this evidence, it is United - now riding back-to-back defeats - who have a more pressing need to strengthen if they are to build on last season's top-half finish and consider a play-off push.
Tony Pulis: "I was delighted with [Lewis] Wing but I thought there were a lot of players who played really well. He's a local boy and we get as many local lads through as we possibly can.
"Everybody knows that we have to bring players in; I've had a meeting with the chairman this afternoon but we want to bring good players in and that's the important thing. We've got targets and I'll be really disappointed if we don't get them but that's the way I am and I'd rather bring in quality players."
Chris Wilder: "They had two corners and scored from them to go 2-0 up and we're chasing the game. I think when you come to places like the Riverside, with the quality they've got, if you hand out goals like we have in the first 20 minutes... the organisation and the application is not as big as the desire from their players to score.
"They've got some very good players to start with before we give them a handout of two goals."