A FIRST half brace from Marko Arnautovic extend Stoke City’s unbeaten home run in the Premier League to eight games with victory over Middlesbrough.
The Austrian international’s well-taken first inside the opening 15 minutes was added to three minutes before the interval following Peter Crouch’s cushioned header.
Boro rarely threatend at the bet365 Stadium and the win was just rewards for a dominant display by the Potters who move back into ninth place as a result of collecting all three points.
On a cold afternoon in North Staffordshire it was the Potters who settled the quicker and in the 14th minute created the first clear cut chance of the game. Following a flowing move inside the visitors half, Joe Allen played the ball into the path of Arnuatovic who crossed to the far post for Ramadan to rattle a close range effort against the crossbar before the rebound was screwed wide by Allen.
Hughes’ side were the ones applying the greater pressure on the opposition goal and had a glorious chance to break the deadlock five minutes later. After Shawcross won possession midway inside the ‘Boro half, the 29-year-old surged forward, but with a clear sight of goal decided to try and cross the ball to Crouch, however ‘keeper Victor Valdes was quick off his line to push the ball away at the striker’s feet.
Middlesbrough were offering very little in terms of an attacking threat although a lapse in concentration at the back almost proved crucial when Grant Leadbitter’s ball over the top was latched on to by Marten de Roon who was expertly denied by a last-ditch block from an outstretched Geoff Cameron.
City’s superiority eventual told just before the half hour mark when Glenn Whelan played an expertly weighted ball through to Arnautovic who brought it down under pressure from George Friend before moving to the right and powering in from 10 yards.
The Potters were dealing quite comfortably with the Boro frontline as they pushed for a route back into the contest, although hearts were in mouths with six minutes until the break when Leadbitter found space 25 yards from goal and cracked an effort which hit Whelan and deflected narrowly wide of Lee Grant’s upright.
Nerves were to turn into applause shortly after however as the home deservedly extended their lead. A Whelan corner out on the right was whipped to the back post where Crouch headed the ball down into the path of Arnautovic who hooked in from no more than three yards out.
Aitor Karanka brought on Christhian Stuani at the break to try and give his side a different outlet up front, however it was defender Ben Gibson who almost pulled a goal back on the hour mark but for a correct offside call as a Leadbitter free-kick was flicked into his path by Bernardo Espinoza who had made his forward move a second too soon.
The second period was a much bitter affair as both teams struggled to create a meaningful effort with Glen Johnso a whisky away from playing in Allen following a free-flowing move, while Boro sub Adlene Guedioura blazed well off target from distance.
City could have added gloss to the scoreline in the final seven minutes when a deep Cameron cross found Ramadan at the far post but Valdes pulled off a smart save low down at his near post to prevent the Egyptian.
The attacker almost did make it three in stoppage time but his shot was blocked at the near post before Allen was just unable to force the ball over the line from the rebound.
Ramadan was in the thick of the action once again as the game enter the final seconds as he played in substitute Ibrahim Afellay who, with only Valdes to beat, fired into the keeper’s legs.