4 Mar 2017
Aitor Karanka’s men will finish the weekend in the bottom three after a toothless display at the bet365 stadium, thanks to two goals from the Austrian
Marko Arnautovic netted his first home Premier League goals since April 2016 as a first-half double helped Stoke City return to winning ways by despatching struggling Middlesbrough 2-0.
Austria forward Arnautovic had not scored in front of his own fans in the top flight in 11 months prior to Saturday’s clash at the bet365 Stadium, but he provided the rare moments of quality in what was a scrappy encounter.
Having already set up a gilt-edged chance for Ramadan Sobhi, Arnautovic took matters into his own hands after 29 minutes with a sublime turn and finish, before bundling home his second prior to the interval.
Arnautovic’s afternoon came to a premature end through injury midway through the second half, though it mattered little as Aitor Karanka’s visiting side failed to find a way back into the contest, with Ben Gibson seeing a strike ruled out for offside.
The victory sees Stoke extend their unbeaten run at home to eight league matches, while Middlesbrough drop into the relegation zone, with fellow strugglers Crystal Palace and Leicester City both claiming vital points elsewhere.
Middlesbrough were handed a blow early on in a physical contest, Daniel Ayala hobbling off with an apparent hamstring injury just six minutes in.
That change seemed to unsettle the Middlesbrough defence and Stoke should have taken advantage 14 minutes in.
Joe Allen and Arnautovic combined brilliantly to tee-up Sobhi, but the youngster could only rattle the woodwork from point-blank range.
Middlesbrough were exposed again soon after, Victor Valdes reacting instinctively to deny Peter Crouch following sloppy play from Grant Leadbitter.
But the away team’s luck ran out just prior to the half-hour mark, Arnautovic getting the better of both George Friend and Valdes with a series of exquisite touches before thumping home from a tight angle.
And he wasted little time in adding to his tally, with slack Middlesbrough defending allowing the Austrian to smuggle in Stoke’s second three minutes before half-time, moments after Leadbitter had gone close at the other end.
Arnautovic should have turned provider following the restart, but after engineering space with another neat turn, he failed to pick out Sobhi with a disappointing cross.
Gibson thought he had ended Middlesbrough’s three-game goal drought in the league when he slotted home on the hour mark, but it was swiftly disallowed.
While Middlesbrough rallied somewhat – Gaston Ramirez trying his luck from range with a stinging strike – Stoke were forced into a change, Mark Hughes taking no risks with Arnautovic after the winger picked up a knock.
Despite Middlesbrough’s tame attack, Karanka chose not to introduce Alvaro Negredo from the bench as the game wore on, and the visitors created little going forward.
Indeed, it was Stoke who almost added gloss to the victory late on, Valdes on top form to deny both Sobhi and Ibrahim Afellay as Middlesbrough slumped to a 13th successive away league game without a win.