TOWN 0 BORO 2
David Wagner's dream of a win in his first home game at the John Smith's Stadium was shattered by a clinical finishing display from Middlesbrough, but the score line certainly didn’t tell the story of the game.
Largely against the run of play, Boro, who sat 4th before proceedings began, netted in both halves through ex-Town man Adam Clayton and right back Emilio Nsue to ensure the points were heading back to Teesside.
Despite this, the Terriers – who had an amazing 75% possession according to the Press Association – had plenty to be positive about and could have easily won the game had they taken one of several first half chances.
Town's team included four changes from the defeat at Hillsborough last Saturday, with Jed Steer returning in goal for the injured Joe Murphy (ankle), Jamie Paterson coming in for the suspended Harry Bunn and Joe Lolley replacing Mustapha Carayol: unable to play against his parent club. Ben Chilwell, the 18 year old left back on loan from Leicester, made his full football league debut ahead of Kyle Dempsey, who dropped to the bench.
As expected, Town's new style of play was evident from the off as the front four of Wells, Paterson, Scannell and Lolley consistently forced the Boro back line to give up possession; an aspect which Wagner focussed on as a key area.
However, the high tempo pressing wasn’t applicable to the Teesiders’ first goal from a set play. When a corner was cleared to the edge of the box, former Town midfielder Adam Clayton brushed Wells asisde and finishing past the helpless Jed Steer after a cruel deflection aided the ball into the far corner.
The home side continued to play at an increased tempo and intensity, again allowing no time on the ball with no time to settle.
Town's first real chance came shortly after going behind; Nahki Wells hitting the crossbar from a free-kick on the edge of the box after Jamie Paterson was fouled.
The Terriers continued to probe and dominated the ball to pile on the pressure. An incisive counter attack led by Emyr Huws opened the door for Sean Scannell to test George Friend on the Boro left and his through ball found Wells, who found the door slammed shut by goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos; he did well to smother his dinked effort.
On a bitterly cold afternoon, Scannell was next to found himself denied by Konstantopoulos yet again after great work from new-signing Chilwell on the left flank.
Since the goal, Boro, on the back of a 1-0 win against QPR last Friday, continued to look rushed and panicked by a rejuvenated Town team, but once more opportunities were few and far between for both outfits; Tommy Smith blasted over from a tight angle in the last notable action of the first half.
The game's pattern continued to remain the same throughout the second period. Town were patient and always looking to press at any opportunity, but Aitor Karanka's side were rigid and denied Town passages through to goal on regular occasions.
A key aspect of Town's performance regardless of the result was the positivity in transition from defence to attack, highlighted by the advances of Chilwell and Tommy Smith, making his first home start in three months, further up the pitch to provide many attacking options.
The game ebbed and flowed, with neither side able to find a way to break each other down. Boro sat back and looked to stem the continuation of Town's dominance, albeit in terms of possession with, yet again, a lack of a clinical edge.
The introductions of Kyle Dempsey and Duane Holmes did provide the required energy, but did little to effect the game outcome.
It wasn't long until Town then suffered a harsh lesson at the hands of Emilio Nsue; the right back slotted past Jed Steer to send the 3,900 Teesiders home delirious and with three points to boot.
The new boss and his side will feel more than hard done by, with Boro completing the most fitting of smash and grab victories.
Town can take many positives from a considerately different upbeat performance, but David Wagner and his new philosophy will have to wait another week to get the chance to gain his victory since joining the club, visiting Birmingham City next Saturday (3pm).
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Jed Steer; Ben Chilwell, Martin Cranie, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Emyr Huws, Dean Whitehead; Joe Lolley (Flo Bojaj, 79’), Jamie Paterson (Duane Holmes, 71’), Sean Scannell (Kyle Dempsey, 67’); Nahki Wells
Lloyd Allinson, Jason Davidson, Jonathan Hogg, Murray Wallace