A first-half brace from Mark Arnautovic helped Stoke City to dispel the memory of their nightmare performance last weekend and ensure that struggling Middlesbrough dropped in the relegation zone for the first time this season.
The Potters were on the receiving end of a four-goal thumping at White Hart Lane one week ago – a performance that drew heavy criticism from manager Mark Hughes and the club’s chairman Peter Coates. However, they were much improved against Middlesbrough and demonstrated their superiority over the visitors by easing to a 2-0 victory at the Bet365 Stadium.
Arnautovic, not for the first time, was the star figure in a first half in which Stoke dominated and Middlesbrough rarely threatened. The charismatic Austrian caused visiting full-back George Friend all sorts of problems and it was little surprise to see the winger open the scoring when he beautifully plucked Glenn Whelan’s long ball out of the air, rounded the goalkeeper and smashed his shot between two despairing defenders. The 27-year-old then doubled his tally when he hooked in from close range after Peter Crouch had nodded down Glenn Whelan’s corner into the six-yard box.
Middlesbrough rarely threatened throughout the contest and never truly looked like securing a result. The closest that Aitor Karanka’s side came to a goal was when Ben Gibson’s effort was correctly ruled out for offside and there were ironic cheers from the away supporters when they saw a late second half shot float aimlessly wide. The Boro have now slipped into the relegation zone.
Stoke demonstrate their quality
Mark Hughes did not hold back in his criticism of Stoke City’s performance at White Hart Lane last weekend but he would have been delighted by the response of his player’s against Middlesbrough.
The Potters were quite clearly head-and-shoulders above their opponents both in terms of quality and application, with the only disappointment being that they only scored two goals. Hughes’ team produced some fluent, attractive football and Ramadan Sobhi, Joe Allen, and Ibrahim Afellay all wasted opportunities to extend the two-goal lead provided by Marko Arnautovic in the first half. In truth, they never looked threatened by a poor Middlesbrough team that were short of confidence and quality in the final third.
This result moves Stoke up to ninth in the Premier League and The Potters look near-certainties to secure a fourth consecutive finish under the guidance of Hughes.