Monday, 1 September 2008

Boro squeeze past Stoke

"Oh s-hoyte..."

It might not have been pretty but Boro confirmed their best start in nine seasons by beating Stoke City on Saturday. Tuncay Sanli ensured that this week it was Gareth Southgate's side who stole all the points in the closing minutes.

Tony Pulis' Potters were a different proposition to Liverpool or Spurs. Boro had looked dangerous in their opening games against teams who were prepared to pass the ball and occasionally commit men forward.

Stoke's style was somewhat different. Rory Delap must be the first footballer selected as a specialist throw-in taker. While his mammoth throws did cause the odd moment of uncertainty, Delap's clumsy, leaden footwork was embarrassing. Fuller and Kitson provided a muscular if uncomplicated threat up front while Liam Lawrence was busy in midfield. For the opening half hour, the visitors looked fairly comfortable as Boro struggled to assert their technical superiority.

The game changed after Amdy Faye's two footed lunge on Mohammed Shawky. Faye received a thoroughly deserved red card and Afonso Alves arced the resulting free kick into the top corner. Stoke keeper Thomas Sorenson was reduced to joining the bulk of the 27,627 crowd in slack-jawed appreciation.

Jeremie Aliadiere was bright down the right flank again, crossing for Tuncay to screw a simple finish over the bar. Further frustration came after Griffin tripped Alves in the penalty area. Stewart Downing, scorer of 2 penalties last season, could only smash the ball against the crossbar.

Hardened Boro cynics began to fear the worst. Sure enough, Stoke equalised on a rare excursion into enemy territory. Liam Lawrence curved an inviting cross to the far post beyond the grasp of Ross Turnbull. With Kitson playing close attention, Justin Hoyte deflected the ball into the gaping net for Boro's third own goal in three league games.

Frustration grew on and off the pitch. A clearly irked Mido finally made it onto the pitch with thirteen minutes left as Afonso Alves was surprisingly withdrawn. A reprieve came after another mishit Didier Digard shot. Just as against Spurs, the Frenchman inadvertantly found a red shirt in the area. This time, it was Tuncay who had the space to take the ball down and poke past Sorenson. Stoke looked in vain for a flag - replays showed the Turk was definitely onside.

Boro held on to secure an important if unconvincing win. Despite looking prone to the old insecurities, they showed enough resolve to see off Stoke's resolute challenge. To some extent, some sympathy is due to Stoke who put in a prodiguous effort for no reward. Yet, their tactics limit any such niceties. Their direct style and throw-in fetish is acceptable is unappealing. However, the number of late challenges, often when the ball was no longer in play, was indefensible. Its hard to imagine them lasting more than a year in the top flight. Few will miss them.

Player Ratings

Turnbull 6
Little to do
Hoyte 5 Nervy
Pogatetz 6 Doesn't look entirely comfortable at full back
Wheater 7 Strong in the middle and at right back
Huth 7 Stood up well to Stoke's physical approach
Aliadiere 8 Very bright - constant threat
Downing 7 Awful penalty seemed to hit his confidence a little
Shawky 6 Ineffective before the break. Improved but struggling to resist Digard's challenge
O'Neil 6 Struggled to impose himself
Tuncay 7 Tireless running and composed finish at the death
Alves 8 Beautiful free kick was the high point of a classy display.


Digard (for Shawky) 7
Much more assertive presence in the middle
Taylor (for Hoyte)
Mido (for Alves)