Middlesbrough and Stoke shared the spoils in an evenly fought contest at the Riverside Stadium. Boro, making a return to the top-flight after a 7-year hiatus took an early lead after Negredo headed in from the impressive Ramirez’s looping headed pass. Middlesbrough took the visitors by surprise and dominated the early proceedings as they settled nicely after the goal.
Stoke played poorly in the first half but slowly got into the rhythm after the interval. While clear-cut chances were few and far between, they did start to dictate the play as the home team got tired as the match progressed. Eventually, Stoke took advantage of a dead-ball as Shaqiri curled in a free-kick out of Valdes’s reach and earned a draw to get their campaign going.
THREE TALKING POINTS
ALVARO NEGREDO LOOKS LIKE HE NEVER LEFT
It took Negredo 10 minutes to break the deadlock as he imposed himself and headed the ball in having jumped over Stoke’s sturdy backline. Many predicted Boro to finish in the bottom 3 but on the evidence on show tonight, it seemed unlikely. Negredo will be the key and his partnership with Ramirez in their link-up play and with Downing from the wide areas will be crucial. But Boro still looked a couple of signings short and they will look to add at the back and look for a quality addition higher up the pitch.
STOKE NEED A STRIKER
Throughout the first half, it was difficult to differentiate between the established Premier League side and a newly promoted team. Stoke found it difficult to get going and will be thankful for the moment of brilliance from Shaqiri, else Boro looked deserved winners on the day. The trio of Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri need a striker who can run in behind and finish off moves. Else the build-up play fizzles out by the time Stoke reach the opposition box.
KARANKA NEEDS TO BE MORE FLEXIBLE IN THE TOP-FLIGHT
Middlesbrough visibly ran out of steam in the second half and though the injury to De Roon reduced the scope of too much change, Karanka needs to be flexible in shaking things up. One of his trademarks during the promotion campaign was his reluctance to change but he needs to loosen up over here. He could have brought on Nugent earlier or put in Viktor Fischer to stretch the tired Stoke defence in order to relieve themselves of pressure. We will get to know as the season progresses whether he is willing to change in this respect.
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