Middlesbrough missed the chance to move within one point of the Championship play-off places after they were held to a goalless draw against Sheffield Wednesday at the Riverside.
Tony Pulis’ side recorded 19 shots but were unable to break through a stern Wednesday defence, which has now conceded just one goal in five games since the appointment of manager Jos Luhukay.
Patrick Bamford was denied by an instinctive save from visiting goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith in the first half, while Ben Gibson hit the post after the interval.
Worryingly for Pulis, the Teessiders have now failed to score in all three home league games since his appointment last month.
Boro fail to convert their chances
Boro’s defence has looked far more organised and robust under the Welshman, though, and the hosts named the same back four for the fifth game running.
At the other end, Boro’s wastefulness in front of goal has cost them in recent weeks, and Pulis recalled top scorer Britt Assombalonga to try and resolve the issue.
Grant Leadbitter also returned for the hosts following their FA Cup defeat to Brighton at the weekend.
Wednesday were also involved in the cup on Saturday, and manager Luhukay made six changes to the side which beat Reading 3-1 at Hillsborough.
Goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith, Ross Wallace, Jacob Butterfield, Liam Palmer and Lucas Joao all returned to the side, while 21-year-old defender Jordan Thorniley came in for just his second Championship appearance.
Flashes from Traore
Thorniley, who was deployed on the left-hand side of a back three, was faced with the difficult task of trying to stop Boro live wire Adama Traore in the first half.
With just 12 minutes on the clock, the Boro winger set off on one of his turbocharged runs on the right flank, only for Thorniley to chop down his man, prompting referee James Linington to show a yellow card.
Moments later Boro found Traore again, and the winger charged to the byline before clipping the ball across the visitor’s penalty area.
Bamford thought he’d applied the finishing touch, however the striker’s back-post header was clawed out by the gloves of an alert Wildsmith.
Boro struggled to create chances after that, and both side looked organised and well-drilled out of possession.
Wednesday grew in confidence as the half wore on, without really threating Darren Randolph’s goal.
The Middlesbrough keeper kept out Lucas Joao’s long-range effort on 39 minutes, while Ross Wallace fired over minutes before half time.
Still, the best chance fell to Boro two minutes before the interval, when Grant Leadbitter’s inswinging corner dropped inside the penalty area but neither Assombalonga or Ryan Shotton could sort their feet out quick enough.
Wednesday defence stands firm
Boro started brightly after the restart and almost took the lead on 55 minutes.
Traore’s cross was slightly behind Bamford but he still managed to control it before turning towards goal inside the area. But, after doing the hard work, the striker blazed his effort over from close range – perhaps a sign of his lack of confidence right now.
The hosts continued to push men forward and came within a whisker of a breakthrough when Stewart Downing’s free kick was nodded onto the post by Gibson.
Moments later, George Friend burst forward down the left, but his cross was headed straight at Wildsmith by Assombalonga.
Pulis threw on forwards Martin Braithwaite and Rudy Gestede with 12 minutes to go as his side pushed for a winner.