An outstanding first half performance saw Boro put Sheffield United to the sword at the Riverside as Tony Pulis’ side recorded a first win of the season on some style.
Martin Braithwaite, Aden Flint, and Stewart Downing were the names on the scoresheet as Boro blitzed the Blades with a real show of class and strength.
The opening half hour was a joy to behold as Boro ripped into the visitors from the very first minute when visiting goalkeeper Dean Henderson was called upon to deny Jonny Howson what would have been the opening goal.
Six minutes later it was 1-0 when Braithwaite fired home from close range after a great corner delivery by Lewis Wing.
Wing, making his full debut, was provider for the second goal too with another great corner. This time it was Flint who found space before rising well to head the ball beyond Henderson for his first Boro goal.
Such was Boro’s dominance, it was no surprise when a third goal came before half-time. Ryan Shotton sent in a cross from the deep and Downing arrived at the far post to steer the ball back across goal and into the far corner.
Downing’s goal put clear distance between the two sides even before the half-hour mark and was fitting reward for Boro’s impressive dominance throughout the opening period. The last time Boro were 3-0 up at half-time was against Bolton in the first home game of the season during the promotion campaign of 2015/16.
The visitors were lucky to keep 11 men one the park after a rash challenge from Chris Basham on Braithwaite early in the second half. Referee Robert Jones resisted a red card, and handed Basham a yellow instead.
Boro started the second period on the front foot, Downing curling a shot wide after a half-cleared corner, but Sheffield United’s first real chance of the game soon followed when Leon Clarke got up well at a corner but couldn’t guide his header on goal.
As the game headed into its final quarter, Pulis took the chance to hand a debut to summer signing Paddy McNair. The Northern Irishman, who missed the opening day trip to Millwall due to injury, replaced Howson for the final stages.
There was still time for Darren Randolph to show his qualities when he made his first real save of the game to deny Clarke, and while Boro’s defence looked strong and organised, the Irishman did make another save during the final stages, when he palmed away a shot to his left.
Boro: Randolph, Fry, Flint, Friend, Shotton, Wing (Leadbitter), Clayton, Howson (McNair), Downing, Braithwaite, Assombalonga (Fletcher). Subs: Dimi, Johnson, Chapman, Tavernier.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Baldock, Evans, Fleck, O’Connell, Bisham, Lundstram (Woodburn), Evans (Leonard), Clarke, Egan, McGoldrick (Duffy). Subs: Moore, Sharp, Woodburn, Leonard, Stearman, Bryan, Duffy.