It was the hosts who started brightly and deservedly took the lead when Alvaro Negredo, on loan from Valencia, nodded home to the delight of the home fans. However, it wasn’t to be the dream start as after half-time Xherdan Shaqiri fired in a free-kick which meant that both sides shared the spoils.
Butland misses key clash
Yesterday, the Potters were rocked by the news that goalkeeper Jack Butland had left the training ground on crutches with problems with his ankle, but the young ‘keeper has since made it known that it is scar tissue problems only. This will be of huge relief to the Stoke City faithful who feared a reoccurrence of his broken ankle. Shay Given therefore started for Stoke and performed admirably making one key save from Stewart Downing as the game came to a close.
New season, same problems
Despite this being a new season, the same problems persist for the Potters. They started slowly as Middlesbrough started much brighter in their first outing in the Premier League since 2009. They attacked with pace, catching the Potters on their heels and got their reward when, with 11 minutes on the clock, Negredo, their newest recruit latched on to Gaston Ramirez’s cross to head on home on his debut. It was Middlesbrough who looked like the Premier League regulars and the Potters who were out of their depth and off the pace.
Shay Given was unable to do anything, but the defending was lacklustre to say the least. First of all Erik Pieters was at fault for failing to stop the cross coming in from the right hand side of the area, and then both Philip Wollschied and Ryan Shawcross were out jumped and outmuscled by Negredo. Defence lapses like this will always cost Stoke and add credibility to Marc Wilson’s claim on social media that the team do not work on the defence in training. If true, which on evidence is becoming more and more credible, it is alarming and must change.
Striker problems for Hughes
City looked far from their best as they struggled to create any chances of note. Bojan was the Potters’ main attacking threat as he linked nicely with Giannelli Imbula in the first half. Mama Biram Diouf was extremely quiet and hardly had a touch of the ball during his time on the pitch.
This highlights the Potters’ need for a striker during this window or else a drought in front of goal is likely. It is crucial that they grab a striker who can not only finish off chances, which may be necessary if Stoke are to create as few openings as they did here, but also a striker who can pick the ball up from deep and run at players. Diouf was industrious as ever, but failed to cause the Boro defenders any trouble.
After half time, Hughes took Diouf off and replaced him with Jonathan Walters, but instead of answering the front line question, this just seemed to add more as one ineffective striker was replaced by another. With Joselu not in the match day squad and very few options available, Hughes needs a striker before the transfer window shuts.
Xherdan to the rescue
After half time, where Hughes clearly had strong words, the Potters were much more industrious even if clear cut chances were few and far between. Where in the first half the team had failed to attack the Boro backline, here the Potters found a way through, playing the ball into the channels and last season’s hero, Marko Arnautovic started to get into the game more.
However, it was the other winger, Xherdan Shaqiri, who had been anonymous for most of the game that changed the complexion of the match. Having been fouled close to the area, he then took the resulting free kick and struck a delightful, curling effort into the far corner of the goal past Victor Valdes. Valdes was expecting Shaqiri to hit the ball up and over the wall, but instead the fierce strike was hit across goal before it nestled in the back of the net. It was the moment of genius that a player of his calibre is capable of but he must become more consistent.
Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for the coming season with Stoke becoming more clinical from set pieces. Under Tony Pulis’ regime the Potters were notorious for scoring from set pieces and throw ins in particular, but under Hughes this hasn’t been the case. With so few scoring opportunities in open play, maybe this will be required if City are to be successful this season.
Friend makes enemies for the right reasons
The new season has brought a new initiative by the FA to cut down on the remonstration and abuse that referees have been getting. Kevin Friend was clearly willing to implement the rule to the letter of the law as Shay Given and Marko Arnautovic were both booked for protesting decisions.
Given’s booking was perhaps slightly harsh as Ramirez had challenged Pieters dangerously. Conversely, Arnautovic’s was petulant; having been awarded the free kick, it was unnecessary to shout at Kevin Friend. This stance taken by Friend is good to see and we must hope that the precedent is set by all. Over recent years the situation between players and referees has got out of hand and although this may be a draconian method of making sure that it desists, the long term impacts will outweigh the short term disruption.
Much to ponder going forward
This wasn’t a performance that will live long in the memory of fans and players alike. Over the entire 90 minutes, Stoke only had one shot on target throughout the match which was the goal. It is clear that new signings must occur to freshen up the attacking line.
However, some perspective is also important to have at this stage of the season. To start the season away from home against a newly promoted team is never an easy task, especially when City hasn’t won away from home on the opening day since 2007. Hughes will take the point gained from this draw into next week against Manchester City but will know that his team need to create more chances if they are to take a share of the spoils in future.