Goals from Ashley Fletcher and Marcus Tavernier secured victory for the visitors at the bet365 Stadium and condemned the Potters to a first defeat in six games.
Similar to that of their performance against Reading the previous weekend, Stoke struggled to make any headway in the first half, going into half-time a goal down thanks to Fletcher’s 29-minute header.
Despite creating a number of chances throughout the first 45, O’Neill admits he was disappointed with his side’s start to the game.
Speaking to StokeCity+ he said:
“We made life very difficult for ourselves in the first half, we had to play into a strong breeze and knew that Middlesbrough would come to put the ball on top of us and play directly, but we struggled to deal with that.
“We gave away too many free-kicks early in the game which meant we invited pressure, and ultimately we lost a goal off a set-piece.
“Despite creating chances in the first half we didn’t take them, and ultimately in the second half, we had more than enough chances to draw level in the game. We then concede a poor goal and the task becomes doubly difficult when you go 2-0 down.
“You can’t legislate for some of the chances that we missed. At the end of the day, we’re talking about chances that are six to eight yards out.”
Another issue that the Potters now face is the suspension of Nick Powell after he was sent off for receiving two yellow cards with just a minute of normal time remaining.
Powell will now miss Tuesday’s trip to former club Wigan Athletic and O’Neill admits that he was ‘baffled’ by some of the midfielder’s decision-making.
“They were two silly fouls,” he added.
“The first one was very reckless and the second one, I’m baffled a little bit because normally players react because of the crowd and the emotion in the stadium but we’re not playing in front of anybody so to make those two decisions was extremely disappointing.
“Nick’s been brilliant for me, he’s a very important player for us but obviously we’ll have to deal without him.”
An important week ahead
Saturday’s result left the Potters just one point above the relegation zone, with two now all-important fixtures against Wigan and Barnsley (July 4) to come next week.
And with pressure starting to on his side with seven games left to play this season, the Stoke boss was quick to stress that his side will be fully focused on securing the right result next time out.
“It was a massive opportunity (vs Middlesbrough), but it’s gone now and we have to get back in and get ready for Tuesday night (vs Wigan),” said O’Neill.
“We never look further than the next game, since we came in we’ve never been able to and we’ve never been able to play in a relaxed way because of the situation that the club is in.
“That was the message to the players all week, let’s start off the week on the right foot - we didn’t do that so obviously we’ll try and make amends for that.”