As Stoke City's raucous fans reminded everyone here, they only had ten men. Forced to play that way for 54 minutes after Amdy Faye was dismissed by referee Mike Dean for a two-footed lunge at Mohamed Shawky, Stoke still pushed Middlesbrough throughout and lost only in the 85th minute. It can be an unforgiving division.
But for the width of substitute Andy Wilkinson, Stoke would have departed Teesside with a point even one-eyed locals would have thought warranted. It was against the backdrop of their rising anxiety that Didier Digard scuffed a shot from twenty yards, which fell fortunately at the feet of Tuncay Sanli.
The Turk was free and behind a couple of yellow Stoke shirts. The assumption was that Tuncay was offside. But lurking ten yards away was Wilkinson, seen by the linesman who held down his flag. With people waiting for it to go up, Tuncay played on and placed an eight-yard poke beyond Thomas Sorensen.
Stoke were beaten, finally, but it had required a brilliant free-kick from Afonso Alves and those 85 minutes, and though Stewart Downing missed a second-half penalty, when manager Tony Pulis spoke afterwards it was with confidence and no sense of injustice.
"I think Mike's made the right decision," Pulis said immediately, neutralising any possibility that he and referee Dean would dominate coverage. "But, up until that point, the players looked as if they were enjoying themselves and I hope people will look at what we are rather than what they perceive we are."
It was fair comment. Faye's was the only bad tackle of the day and much of Stoke's play was as neat as their hosts'.
Until Faye departed, the game was tight.
Alves might have scored with a header and Abdoulaye Faye's one error gifted Shawky an opening in the 18th minute.
Stoke have two A. Fayes in the one team. But having beaten Aston Villa last weekend, it was apparent Stoke had no inferiority complex.
Gareth Southgate saluted the opposition. "We made hard work of it but Stoke were very good on the day. They showed discipline, especially when they were down to ten men. We got a bit sloppy but we did have enough chances."
As Pulis said, the afternoon changed in the 36th minute. When a Boro breakaway broke down on the edge of the visitors' area, Gary O'Neil rolled a short pass backwards to Shawky.
Amdy Faye saw the pass was slow and went for it but it was with two feet in the air and he caught Shawky on the ankle. There have been worse two-footed tackles, but it was still two-footed.
As Shawky received treatment and Faye dragged himself off, almost two minutes elapsed. The resumption was worth the wait, though, Alves striking the free-kick up and over the wall and into the top corner from 25 yards. It was unstoppable; Sorensen did not move.
With 52 minutes remaining of a humid afternoon, and Stoke already having covered acres closing down space, this was now problematic. Boro were about to set up camp in the away half.
But as pressure built, Tuncay skied over from seven yards and Sorensen parried a Downing snapshot. There was an even better Sorensen save from Alves, low to his left and a superb block by Abdoulaye Faye.
Then Dean intervened again. Having eased the ball past Seyi Olofinjana, Alves dropped like a stone in the box. It appeared soft but Dean, well-placed, pointed to the spot instantly. Downing stepped up and smacked a fierce penalty but it rocketed back off the crossbar.
Despite looking exhausted, Stoke found some energy. Liam Lawrence made a run up the right and though yellow shirts were not plentiful in the box, Lawrence swept in a fast centre across the six-yard line. Ross Turnbull did not like it and stayed on his line, which left Hoyte, backtracking with Dave Kitson on his shoulder, to deal with it. He could not, the ball bounced up and cannoned off the new signing and in.
The Riverside expressed its annoyance at that. Soon, thanks to a linesman as well as Tuncay, there was relief.Reuse content