Shawcross bolsters fortress
Stoke City 1 Middlesbrough 0
Monday 23 March 2009
When managers and chief executives talk in future about pulling together for the common good, they should point to Stoke City's Premier League debut season to demonstrate how relatively little can go a long way.
Whether or not the battle for top-flight survival is won – and the signs are increasingly promising – the Potteries folk have made the Britannia Stadium a pulsating, special place.
Fifty weeks ago tonight, barely 15,000 watched a Championship home defeat against Crystal Palace. Now, buoyed by promotion, they flock there and lift the roof at a venue that is as uplifting to home players as it is intimidating to even big-name opponents.
Stoke have taken 28 points at home and four away – a greater disparity than any other side in the top four divisions – and genuinely have what footballspeak terms a fortress. Middlesbrough stood up gallantly to the challenge. They were more fluent and creative than Stoke, only to switch off late on in allowing Ryan Shawcross, a centre-half with a scoring knack, to capitalise on the weapon Gareth Southgate had most frequently warned them about, Rory Delap's long throw.
Boro's manager knew he was in for an odious send-off from away fans near the mouth of the players' tunnel – and wasn't disappointed. Or maybe he was. After helping Middlesbrough to a European final, a Carling Cup triumph and general 21st-century good health, he is suffering because the here and now is below expectations. "The reaction is not nice, but it's the way of the modern world," Southgate said.
A failure to score in seven of their last nine league games is the root problem for Middlesbrough, who have also lost eight successive league away matches. Safety now appears much less attainable for them than for Stoke. "Our home form is just mad. Teams don't like coming here," said the Stoke winger Liam Lawrence.
Goal: Shawcross (84) 1-0.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson (Kelly, h-t), Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham; Lawrence, Whelan, Diao (Etherington, 51), Delap; Beattie, Fuller. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Sidibe, Amdy Faye, Camara, Sonko.
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Jones; Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz; McMahon (Hoyte, 80), O'Neil, Shawky, Downing, Taylor (Johnson, 86); King (Alves, 56), Tuncay. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Emnes, Arca, Grounds.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).
Booked: Stoke Fuller, Beattie, Whelan, Diao; Middlesbrough Pogatetz.
Man of the match: O'Neil.
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