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Wednesday can show steel against Boro

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Sheffield Wednesday are among five Sky Bet Championship teams with an unbeaten home record and they can preserve theirs beyond the end of October by drawing with fellow highflyers Middlesbrough at Hillsborough.

The points have been shared in each of Wednesday's last three home fixtures but the Owls have climbed the table thanks to away wins at Aston Villa (2-1) and Bristol City (2-1).

Their victory over Bristol City, courtesy of a second-half double from Lucas Joao, lifted them into the top six for the first time this season, although it may be too soon to regard them as serious promotion contenders.

Wednesday were under an EFL transfer embargo until August 17 (eight days after the closure of the summer transfer window) so were limited to a last-minute dash for loan signings.

Defender Michael Hector and midfielder Josh Onomah were snapped up on season-long loans from Chelsea and Tottenham but it was far from an ideal summer for the Owls, who finished 15th last season.

Expectations of a tough campaign were reinforced when Wednesday collected one point from their first three games but they have responded impressively and a victory over Middlesbrough would lift them to within three points of leaders Sheffield United.

Over the last four weeks Jos Luhukay's men have competed well against fancied teams, winning at Villa and drawing at home to Leeds (1-1) and West Brom (2-2).

The timing of the Middlesbrough fixture, just after an international break, gives them an advantage.

The bulk of Wednesday's squad avoided international call-ups but ten Middlesbrough players were involved with senior or youth international teams, including first-team regulars Darren Randolph (Ireland), George Saville (Northern Ireland), Muhamad Besic (Bosnia) and Martin Braithwaite (Denmark).

Tony Pulis has drafted a letter to EFL chiefs citing his disappointment at the scheduling and said he will take a look at the players in training before settling on a starting line-up.

Pulis noted that some players were below their best when Boro lost 1-0 at Norwich following the September international break but he has a deep squad and a few minor changes shouldn't have a dramatic impact on performance.

Boro usually set up to be tough to beat and can take pride in having the best defensive record in the division.

But there is downside to their cautious approach with Boro scoring just 14 goals, the fewest among the top nine teams.

Their last ten league games have all featured fewer than three goals and the strong likelihood of another low-scoring outcome has impacted the markets with under 2.5 goals priced up at no bigger than 4-6.

As the home side it is up to Wednesday to force the issue but they are short of options up front with Fernando Forestieri (hamstring) joining fellow attackers Sam Winnall, Gary Hooper and Marco Matias on the absentee list.

Under the circumstances both managers might be happy to settle for a stalemate and the draw looks reasonable value.


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