|Pos. 20th (43 pts)||SATURDAY 27 JUNE 2020||Pos. 19th (44 pts)|
|S/O Powell (89)||69%
SHOTS (on target)
Warlock Warnock Slays Stoke
Warnock’s Warriors made their bow down in the Potteries this afternoon at the bet365 Stadium. Hope on Teesside was lower than a snake’s belly at the final whistle of the Swansea debacle which just about summed up everything that went wrong with the previous incumbent. Bizarre team selection, no pace, no coherent formation, eleven players who just looked confused, and after 30 minutes shell shocked. Today couldn’t get any worse even though it was Warnock’s first game in a very short week taking training at Rockliffe. There won’t have been much time to get to know his charges nor them him. Having said that there was still far more optimism on Teesside than there perhaps should be based purely upon that we now had a bloke in the dugout who knew what he was doing.
Actual intrigue and even excitement awaited the team announcement which would give Boro fans an insight into what formation and what type of football we would be playing as we entered these crucial final eight games. Moukoudi was deemed fit again although there were some veiled hints from Warnock at a few niggles elsewhere in the Boro squad.
Stoke had Michael O’Neil in the dugout after his quarantine period for testing positive for the virus, we could but hope that maybe his absence may have affected Stoke’s preparedness for this afternoon’s encounter. Despite being only two points ahead of Boro, before kick-off Stoke had lost just one of their last nine home Championship matches, with six wins amongst them. With Shawcross struggling for fitness after limping off with a groin injury against Reading last weekend we would meet up with Danny Batth once again. Allen, Cousins, and Verlinden would all be crocked with Shawcross, onlookers in the stands.
Warnock made six changes with Spence, Roberts, Assombalonga, Fletcher, Saville, and Johnson all coming into the side. The omission of Gestede had signaled the end of his very expensive and disappointing Boro career. Luton beating Swansea and Charlton beating QPR upped the ante for both these sides to the extent that even a draw would be seen as a bad result. That side saw Gestede, Nmecha, Shotton, Clayton, Wing, and Coulson all dropped after last week’s poor showing. That Gestede hadn’t agreed to extend his contract then it questions Woodgate’s decision to play him last week when his head wasn’t in the Club.
It looked like we would be setting up with a back four with Howson in Midfield. Friend and Fry in the middle with Spence and Johnson on the right and left of them proving defensive cover but also some energy and a pacy threat where we failed miserably last week. Having Assombalonga leading the line with Roberts and Fletcher assisting will certainly provide far more threat than the blunt and mono paced showing last Saturday.
Boro took the pitch in their inky black, dark navy away kit with the stadium flags blowing in the blustery bet365 stadium which is nothing unusual for the Potteries except that the wind was warm instead of biting cold. Meanwhile back on Teesside storm clouds were gathering and thunder was on the horizon, as we hoped it was going to be a positive omen for Boro as they kicked off.
An early throw was passed harmlessly up the pitch into the hands of Stojanovic. A pass back to the big keeper a minute later perhaps showed a Boro happy to be patient. A Boro free-kick from just over the halfway line was floated harmlessly out as the linesman flagged for an offside in any case. Fletcher seemed to be playing centrally with Britt and Roberts either side of him showing a willingness to chase and close down.
A cut back from Powell to Sorenson saw a 20-yard effort test Stojanovic but it went well wide on six minutes. A dreadful Paddy McNair free kick on seven minutes was wasted looping it straight out. A good piece of play by Britt forced a corner out of Batth on eight minutes. Delivered deep to the far side Powell was forced to concede a follow-up corner which Boro worked well, switching sides but an overly enthusiastic dribble saw Roberts lose possession and Stoke break and Boro were fortunate not to be undone as Campbell drove his side forward. Clucas then went down for Stoke and needed some treatment and immediately after Britt was robbed 8 yards by Batth out on thirteen minutes. Stoke struggled to clear their lines and a deft backheel flick from Fletcher ended up safely in Butand’s arms.
A Boro free-kick om 15 minutes near the corner flag sent in by Roberts flicked off Fletcher at the near post to over the crossbar for a Stoke goal kick. So far apart from that Stoke breakaway attack, Boro looked comfortable. Spence beat three players and was taken out by Sorenson 25 yards out. Britt took the kick but it was just over the crossbar centrally so even if it had been on target Butland wouldn’t have been troubled. McLean came close whipping in a low cross to see Stojanovic dive to save the effort in the game so far. Stojanovic punched the resulting corner clear for it to come back in and deflected out for a corner which was headed over by Friend for another Stoke corner. It was delivered to the far corner of the 6-yard box but Chester headed it 10 yards wide and in doing so permitted the Ref to blow for a drinks break.
Twenty-five minutes gone with the scores were still level as play resumed. Stoke were enjoying a bit of possession earning since the restart earning another corner but again it was Chester who headed it wide. McNair was bundled over on the touchline on 29 minutes and the resultant inswinging free kick from Roberts pinpointed to Ashley Fletcher who headed it into the far corner to put Boro one up as the clock ticked over the 30-minute mark. A brilliant set-piece from Boro, a brilliant set-piece from Boro, so good I thought I’d type it twice!
A Boro free kick for a foul on Saville near the opposite corner from the goal creating free-kick was delivered to the far side of the 6-yard box for Thompson to head out for a corner. Cleared but nicked back and swept back into the box for Fletcher to head down to Fry but Butland was alert as the flag went up for an offside. Boro looking good and in the ascendancy, growing in confidence. On thirty-five minutes a low cross from Spence cut across the Stoke defence but the two Navy shirts just couldn’t connect, could have and should have been two.
Howson conceded a free kick for a challenge on Powell but it was headed clear by a packed Boro backline which when put back in was cleared for a Stoke corner which was headed out for a throw-in by Friend. On forty minutes Sorenson came off for Ince to come on as O’Neil seemingly felt his side was losing the battle. A strong and brave header from Fry cut out the danger on 43 minutes with Fletcher trying to receive it on the halfway line but was bundled over with Stoke conceding a throw. From the throw, Boro broke and a cross was deflected out for a corner which ended with Fletcher heading it back across from the corner of the upright for Butland to be impeded according to the Ref as the home side again looked nervy. Stoke broke from the clearance and Stojanovic came out 1950’s style to risk his neck as he clattered Powell in the process to catch (and keep) the ball. After treatment, both seemed OK to carry on.
A long hoofed Boro clearance saw Batth under pressure from Britt as the ex-Boro loanee put the ball out for a Boro throw five yards from the corner flag. A delayed throw was cleared but Boro cleaned up on the halfway line with the half now 4 minutes into added time. A clever clearance from Spence down the flank saw Fletcher cut the ball across to Saville Britt who was bundled over by Chester and Butland for what looked like a penalty but it was waved away as the whistle went for the end of the half.
It wasn’t a game for the purists but Boro looked confident and looked like they had a game plan. They were far quicker to chase and close down and far hungrier and direct than for a very long time. No weak areas, with Spence, Roberts and Fletcher causing problems down the right side with Stojanovic looking big, brave, athletic and very strong. Saville was active and Britt probably covered more yards than he has all season. Warnock will have been pleased with what he witnessed as the players walked off as the heavens opened. A huge difference from Woodgate or Pulis come to that! To see Boro with set-pieces that actually had a tactic and one that the players knew where to stand and where to go was refreshing.
No half time changes from either Manager as Campbell kicked off for Stoke and immediately went up and cut through the sleepy Boro defence with Ince dummying leaving M’Clean at the back post to strike it low but Stojanovic was equal to it and he had to be alert seconds later to punch clear the second phase. Phew! That was a real wake up call. It took Boro two or three minutes to take the sting out of the fired-up home side.
The opening five minutes were all Stoke as a cross came into the Boro far post with Spence losing Mclean who headed the ball against the post with Stojanovic once again diving to clean up the dangerous ball. Stojanovic came out to clear the ball out to the touchline instead of upfield but the throw was adjudged to have been a foul throw with 8 minutes of the half gone. A long throw from Spence down the line saw Roberts chase and earning a throw-in but as the ball was crossed in it nearly went out vis the halfway line.
This was now a test for Boro with Stoke by far the more dominant in the opening ten minutes of the half. A well-worked series of passes from Boro saw Spence jink into the Potters box but his cross was across the back of Fletcher and Britt and the best Boro opportunity for the half went begging. A blocked cross on 57 minutes led to a Stoke corner and a double substitution with Martins Indi and Thompson coming off and Cousins coming on with Vokes.
The corner ended with a free-kick for Boro after a clumsy challenge on Fry’s ankle. On 60 minutes Roberts went off for Boro with Tav coming on to replace him. Incredibly an innocuous ball from the halfway line out to Tav saw him check his run, leave two Stoke defenders for dead and twenty-five yards out unleashed a shot into Butland’s far corner leaving him rooted, 2-0!
That goal was against the run of play and how refreshing it was to see Boro do it for a change. Another change for Boro with Wing coming on for McNair and hopefully an opportunity for him and Tav to link up like we know they can. Powell came close for Stoke only for Fry to block and then a Britt foul allowed a drinks break. Twenty minutes remaining and Stoke had to come out and go for it. Boro presumably would keep things tight and look to hit the Potters on the break.
A clever short Boro corner between Tav and Spence was delivered in by Tav for another corner headed out from the 6-yard box by Chester for a third quick Boro corner that went out for a throw with 15 minutes remaining. Boro had Stoke under pressure on 77 minutes as Britt chased down a long Saville ball causing chaos in the Stoke box. Lewis Wing found himself in the Ref’s book for a foul on Clucas. The free-kick was cleared by Wing with Britt chasing the ball down to the Stoke box keeping pressure on them.
Shotton came on for Saville to play in front of the CB’s as Warnock shored up his defence. Five minutes remained as confident Boro were holding on and Stoke looked to be fading. A long ball from
Shotton out to Britt on the right-wing saw him hold the ball up inviting attention from two Stoke defenders and a foul from Powell allowed Boro to take the sting out with a free-kick out wide played low into Britt who recycled possession but the opportunity came to nothing. Powell lost his head in two quick fire challenges and earned a red for his frustration. Losing Powell in the run in will prove costly for the Potters.
Fry cleared a late added time Vokes effort off the line after Johnson slipped in the box. Ince had a late effort but it was a half-chance and as the corner came in it was Ince again who sliced his shot wide. The final moments were a bit scrappy with Boro sitting back absorbing pressure, clearing balls upfield with Britt running his socks off chasing everything. The final whistle went and Warnock had started his Boro career with a vital away win. The performance from Boro was unrecognisable. Usually this season I have struggled to pick a MOM but today I had the same problem but for a different reason, there were no poor performances anywhere.
Fletcher played well and nicked his goal, Roberts was a menace but then Tav comes on and killed the game. Britt looked nothing like the ambling smiling lethargic lump. He was alert, hungry, and worked his socks off. Saville battled and scrapped, chasing and closing down. Fry, Friend, and Howson were solid with Fry imposing centrally. Stojanovic looked a formidable Keeper, good dealing with high balls and big and brave. Spence done very well and bar one minor blip provided a threat with his pace. There was one man responsible for all this organisation and that was Neil Warnock do for the first time I think the MOM award goes to a Manager.
With results elsewhere going the wrong way, these three points were massive. It dented Stoke and must have demoralised Charlton, Wigan, and Luton after their wins. Now comes along a trip to Hull on Thursday who threw away a two-goal lead at St. Andrews. Seven cup finals to go and the optimism on Teesside was shining through the Thunder clouds!