Middlesbrough cruised into the fourth round of the FA Cup after dispatching Sheffield Wednesday by a score of three goals to nil. After a lacklustre first half, the game sparked into life with a double salvo of incident -- Grant Leadbitter's placed free kick put Boro into the ascendancy before Daniel Ayala saw red for an alleged elbow across the face of Fernando Forestieri. The reduction in numbers and increasing attacking intent from Wednesday played into Boro's hands as they were able to exploit bigger pockets of space and ultimately put the game beyond the Owls' reach.
More space throughout the pitch allowed a number of Middlesbrough's players to play with a more attacking verve given the extra time and touches they were allowed. Regardless of the disadvantage in numbers, Boro were able to bolster their defensive reputation with a well-deserved clean sheet. Aitor Karanka will have been pleased to see his side put away their chances as well -- most notably the composed finish displayed by Marten de Roon for the game's final goal.
The somewhat bizarre fact that it took Middlesbrough to lose a man to start playing the better football is a clear point for further discussion. Boro were insipid and lukewarm throughout the first half -- matched by Wednesday -- and it appears that the side are too often unable to take the game convincingly to lesser opponents. Karanka will hope a run in the FA Cup can provide some useful momentum for Boro's bid to stay in the Premier League.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Aitor Karanka reacted smartly to the sending off of Daniel Ayala by introducing Fabio and Stewart Downing to add a steady mix of solid defensive nous and game management.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Brad Guzan, 7 -- Again in for the injured Victor Valdes, Guzan gave a highly assured performance between the sticks -- most notably coming with confidence for a series of crosses.
DF Calum Chambers, 8 -- Boro's best player on the day, Chambers was fantastic at both right-back and centre-back and looks to be gaining a lot from his time on loan from Arsenal.
DF Daniel Ayala, 6 -- Showed some early ring rust with a poor clearance under pressure but grew into the game in typical fashion. Open to criticism for putting his side immediately at risk following the opening goal after he was dismissed for an elbow.
DF Bernardo Espinosa, 7 -- Another strong showing from the Colombian who won practically every aerial duel -- even against 6'6" forward Atdhe Nuhiu.
DF George Friend, 7 -- Friend was instrumental in sparking the game to life thanks to his desire to drive forward down the left and was a constant threat to be dealt with.
MF Marten de Roon, 7 -- De Roon was ineffectual in the first half but became an integral part of the performance in the second. Marrying tough tackles with marauding runs, the Dutchman rounded off a great performance with a coolly composed goal in injury time.
MF Adam Clayton, 6 -- Substituted in the 62nd minute following Ayala's dismissa, Clayton performed fairly for the hour he was on before giving way due to a tactical switch of shape to a 4-4-1.
MF Grant Leadbitter, 7 -- Boro's captain was at the heart of most things they did well and finally got his side on top with a placed free kick beyond Joe Wildsmith.
MF Cristhian Stuani, 7 -- Stuani put on a great display in the second half, winning his aerial duels and being an integral part of a lot of Boro's dangerous counter attacks. The Uruguayan was unlucky not to get on the score sheet.
MF Adama Traore, 6 -- Also a victim to Karanka's tactical changes, Traore battled away with little end product to show for his endeavours.
FW Alvaro Negredo, 7 -- Negredo held the ball up very well throughout and showed strong commitment to the cause, a credit to his name which reaped rewards when he chased down a poor ball back to the goalkeeper Wildsmith who could only fire the ball off Negredo and into the net.
DF Fabio, 7 -- Always a reliable performer when called upon, Fabio settled things defensively following Ayala's sending off.
MF Stewart Downing, 6 -- Downing brought his years of experience to the proceedings and contributed well to Boro's numerous counterattacks as Wednesday searched for a route back into the game.