AS Middlesbrough's players slumped off the pitch at half-time following the most concerning 45 minutes of Michael Carrick's tenure and with discontent brewing in the away end, the picture looked extremely concerning.

That was at Hillsborough, just over a fortnight ago. Boro were behind to a desperately poor Sheffield Wednesday team and had played like strangers in the opening period. They were bottom of the Championship and had just scored just three goals in the first six and a half games.

What has happened in the two and a half weeks since is on par with the turnaround Carrick inspired when he first took charge last season.

Four straight wins after seven without, two straight clean sheets after nine without. After such a struggle for goals in the opening weeks of the season, they've now scored nine in their last three games. While admittedly given a leg-up by the Dan Neil red card on Saturday, Boro scored as many goals in the second half at the Stadium of Light as they managed in the first seven games of the season.

"We want five," chanted the away fans up in the top tier. They're enjoying themselves again. As are Boro, who may still be 16th in the table but are very much on the climb and looking up.

Carrick and the players deserve immense credit for the transformation since half-time at Sheffield Wednesday. For all the head coach insisted he had full belief in his players through those testing early weeks, performances didn't indicate that this run was just around the corner.

“As I’ve said all along, internally, it was always good, we were always positive, we always felt it was coming and felt we were doing the right things," said Carrick after watching his side take Sunderland apart in the second half on Saturday.

"In terms of results, I would probably say Sheffield Wednesday is the one really. It didn’t change the group in terms of energy or emotion or confidence or anything like that. I think we just always felt it would turn at some point, and that would be the moment you would pinpoint where it did. That’s not to say we’ve cracked it by any means. I don’t feel like that at all. It’s about what we do next, but certainly it’s been a great couple of weeks for us."

Individuals have stepped up. Isaiah Jones is shining again and looking more and more like the player who set the Championship alight two seasons ago. He was the best player on the pitch on Saturday, which is quite the compliment when you consider Jack Clarke was out there with him.

Seny Dieng looks like being the signing of the summer and for all the talk about the difficulty in replacing last season's loanees, Boro's No.1 may well be an upgrade on Zack Steffen. He made a brilliant save with his feet to deny Patrick Roberts when the game was goalless, as he did to keep out Cardiff's Karlan Grant four days earlier. Dan Barlaser has taken his chance in the middle. Hayden Hackney was flawless on Saturday.

Other summer signings continue to settle. Lukas Engel built on his Cardiff breakthrough with a solid display on the biggest Championship stage and Sam Greenwood, with his Sunderland supporting dad in the away end, played with a swagger and set Boro on their way with the opening goal.

Boro have very recent experience of red card pain at Sunderland after Dael Fry's sending off last season. The tables were turned this time around and after taking full advantage in a ruthless second half display, Carrick and his players enjoyed their full-time celebrations. The way Carrick, usually so calm and unflustered, celebrated the first goal was telling. He lost the title with Manchester United at the Stadium of Light and last season's defeat with Boro hurt.

"Last year we came here and it wasn't a nice experience but today the fans seen the goals, got the clean sheet and to spend a few minutes with them at the end there, it's what football was all about," said the head coach.


Boro won the game in the early stages of both halves. The second half was clearly when the damage was done but the opening exchanges of the first period was when Boro laid the foundations for what followed. They started with such composure and maturity and dominated possession, the plan clearly to prevent Sunderland from blasting out of the blocks and getting the home fans whipped up.

"That was a big part of it," said Carrick.

"It only took one instance where we felt Josh (Coburn) was fouled, they go up the other end and have a big chance and the stadium changes. Up until that point, I thought we managed it really well. That’s what these games bring, and what the fans here bring. When you play a game like this you’ve got to manage it throughout. We got the game back and then managed the second half really well to see the game out, so there was a lot to be pleased about."

Carrick admitted he was "surprised" to see Neil sent off deep into first half stoppage time but Boro quickly and impressively set about taking full advantage. They were ruthless after the break and it was only a matter of time before they got the breakthrough. It had to be Greenwood, a teammate of Neil's coming through the Sunderland ranks as a kid.

Jones was unplayable on the right and teed up Crooks for the second, before the winger got the goal he deserved. Substitute Marcus Forss tapped in the fourth in the last minute.

It was an away day that will live long in the memory for Boro fans. There weren't many who'd have predicted this win and this run at half-time at Sheffield Wednesday.