IT isn’t just Middlesbrough that are prospering without Tony Pulis.

Since Pulis left the Riverside at the end of the 2018-19 season, Boro have jettisoned Jonathan Woodgate and successfully reinvented themselves under Neil Warnock as a more attractive attacking side. Pulis was only relieved of his most recent position as Sheffield Wednesday manager on Monday night, but within 24 hours of the Welshman’s departure, his former side were able to celebrate only their second win in their last 12 matches.

It came at Boro’s expense, although the Teessiders really only had themselves to blame as they spurned a succession of promising positions and were ultimately undone by a sloppy nine-minute spell at the end of the first half that saw Wednesday score both of their goals.

Duncan Watmore’s 48th-minute strike offered hope of a comeback, but while Marvin Johnson rapped a low strike against the post, the visitors were unable to make their superiority in terms of possession and territory count.

As Warnock has conceded on a number of occasions this season, finishing is not his side’s greatest strength. For all that they fashioned a series of promising positions in and around the Owls’ 18-yard box last night, their inability to seriously test Keiren Westwood after Watmore scored was a major failing.

Warnock will have been frustrated at the poor decisions made by a number of his players, as well as the uncharacteristic defensive laxness that resulted in Callum Paterson and Liam Shaw scoring before the break. Boro’s backline only switched off a couple of times all night, but it proved their undoing.

Warnock, a boyhood Sheffield United fan, once joked that he would love to take charge of Wednesday just so he could get them relegated, but even he must be utterly perplexed at the way the Owls are being run at the moment. Not that he needed it, but events on the blue half of Sheffield will have provided him with further proof of just how fortunate he is to be working for Steve Gibson.

Perhaps, however, he will reflect that he was rather more unfortunate to have been pitted against Wednesday last night. The home side played as if they had a point to prove following Pulis’ dismissal, and, in contrast to their opponents, were clinical when it mattered.

It was a win at Hillsborough on the final day of last season that confirmed the Teessiders’ survival, but whereas that victory was achieved at something of a canter, with Wednesday having nothing to play for, last night’s encounter proved to be much more testing for the visiting side.

Boro had the much the better of things for the opening half-hour, but their failure to make their superiority count proved costly when their opponents scored two goals in the space of nine minutes to ensure they could revel in the comfort of a two-goal lead at the interval.

Time and again, the Teessiders got themselves into promising positions in the final third before the break, but time and again, they wasted their good openings with an overhit cross or misplaced pass.

Johnson was the chief culprit, showcasing the positive side of his play as he repeatedly took on Wednesday full-back Moses Odubajo, but all too often lacking the composure that was needed to deliver a telling ball into the box.

His seventh-minute centre was creeping in until Chey Dunkley hacked clear from just in front of his own goalline, but another promosing position was wasted a few moments later when his lashed his cross towards the corner flag on the opposite flank rather than in the direction of any of his frustrated team-mates in the 18-yard box.

Johnson also wasted Boro’s best chance of the first half in the 25th minute, when his heavy first touch forced him wide as he chased on to Britt Assombalonga’s through ball. Westwood was able to close down the angle, and the Wednesday goalkeeper saved Johnson’s subsequent low shot with his legs.

In fairness to Johnson, he was not the only Boro player struggling for sharpness. Watmore and Sam Morsy were equally wasteful, with the latter spurning an especially inviting opportunity as he took an age to pick out an unmarked Anfernee Dijksteel, only to then roll a poor pass behind the full-back.

With Boro’s players not quite clicking into top gear, they were always susceptible to a sucker-punch. It arrived on the half-hour mark, and was rapidly followed by a second nine minutes later as Wednesday scored two goals in a game at Hillsborough for the first time since December 2019.

The Owls’ opener was surprisingly simple given Boro’s defensive strength this season, with Liam Palmer’s through ball sending Paterson galloping into the left of the box. The striker played under Warnock at Cardiff City, and ensured it would not be a happy reunion for his former boss as he fired a slick low finish across Marcus Bettinelli and into the bottom corner.

That was bad enough from a Boro perspective, but worse was to rapidly follow as Wednesday doubled their lead six minutes before the break.

Again, the visitors were surprisingly slack at the back, with Barry Bannan twisting away from Dijksteel to deliver a cross from the left, and Shaw peeling off Dael Fry to stab home from inside the six-yard box.

The half-time whistle was the signal for a pushing and shoving match that saw both Sam Morsy and Bannan booked, but the Boro midfielder made a more meaningful contribution as he helped fashion a route back into the game three minutes after the break.

Morsy did well to twist his way into space close to the byline, and did even better to pick out Watmore as he pulled the ball back towards the heart of the penalty area. Watmore made the most of the opportunity, taking one touch to get the ball under control before sweeping a crisp low finish into the bottom corner.

It was the forward’s fifth goal in eight games since signing a short-term contract following his release from Sunderland, enough to make him Boro’s leading scorer and further evidence of why Warnock is so keen to extend his current contract to at least the end of the season.

With their deficit having been halved with almost all of the second half still to play, Boro sensed an opportunity. Lewis Wing curled a 25-yard free-kick straight at Westwood after Watmore’s thrusting run had been halted illegally, before George Saville hit the wall with another set-piece that saw the ball deflect onto the roof of the net.

Bettinelli had to be alert at the other end as he turned Paterson’s front-post flick around the post, but Boro were the dominant force throughout the second half as they chased an equaliser.

Substitute Marcus Tavernier went close when he stroked a 73rd-minute shot just wide of the post following a neat one-two with Watmore, and Johnson went even closer two minutes later when he drilled a shot against the base of the left-hand post after breaking on to Marc Bola’s ball into the box.

That proved to be as close as Boro came to an equaliser though, with Wednesday successfully clinging on.