Late Potters pull through
Stoke`s magnificent home form continued as a late Ryan Shawcross header was enough to secure three valuable points in a tense, nail biter of a match against Middlesbrough. Shawcross was there to glance in Rory Delap`s long throw as Stoke piled on the pressure in the second half after a forgettable first period.
Boss Tony Pulis brought Ricardo Fuller back to the first eleven in replace of Mamady Sidibe, while winger Matthew Etherington took his place on the bench after impressing in the reserves. Salif Diao retained his place in midfield in favour of Amdy Faye.
Middlesbrough, much in need of a victory, were the quickest out of the blocks as they passed the ball around accurately with in-demand winger Stewart Downing and former Stoke target Gary O`Neil in the mix of the action.
Despite all their early possession it was Stoke who had the first chance through in form striker James Beattie. After an uncleared Rory Delap throw Beattie found himself in acres of room from a tight angle. After impressively plucking the ball out of the air he stabbed the ball from close range towards the goal, only for keeper Brad Jones to tip the ball round the post.
Middlesbrough looked insecure at the back when Stoke compiled a rare attack but almost took the lead themselves. A pinpoint Andrew Taylor cross found full-back Tony McMahon in uncharted territory, his unmarked header from 6yrds flew straight into the open arms of Thomas Sorensen. Stoke fans became frustrated after Fuller, Whelan and Diao earned yellow cards from referee Lee Mason who had a poor performance.
A poor opening half hour was almost brought to life in spectacular fashion by the man who scored the late winner in the reverse fixture in August, Tuncay Sanli. The Turkish international collected the ball on the left wing after a neat passing move, after cutting inside he fired from an acute angle inches over the top corner as he showed the quality in-which Middlesbrough possess.
As half-time arrived Pulis withdrew Andy Wilkinson, who was suffering from a back problem, in his place came Stephen Kelly making his home debut since his loan move from Birmingham City.
Much of the game was played out in the congested midfield as Stoke`s Glenn Whelan and Salif Diao battled bravely against the three of Middlesbrough. The Senegalese international, Diao, gave way to Matthew Etherington who moved across to the left with Delap going central as Pulis went with an attacking mentality.
The game then seemed to open up as Gary O`Neil stung the palms of Thomas Sorensen from distance as he made a remarkable save. Etherington used his pace to threaten down the wings as Middlesbrough started to retreat towards their own goal.
James Beattie then wasted a golden opportunity to give the home side the lead as he headed another of Delap`s throws over the bar. Delap`s Rockets threatened Middlesbrough throughout and the crowd then responded with deafening chants and singing.
The players responded as another Delap missile was met at the near post by Shawcross, his glancing header was expertly guided into the far corner to send home fans wild as they sensed a huge mentally boosting win. Players piled on top of hero Shawcross who netted his third goal in four appearances.
The Potters hung on during the last few minutes for a memorable victory that lifts the team up to 16th in the league with eight games remaining. Next up for the mighty Potters is a short trip to relegation rivals West Brom who haven`t conquered Stoke for nearly twenty years.
Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson (Kelly 45), Abdoulaye Faye (c), Shawcross, Higginbotham, Lawrence (Sidibe 82), Whelan, Diao (Etherington 51), Delap, Beattie, Fuller. Subs not used: Simonsen, Sonko, Amdy Faye, Camara.
Middlesbrough: Jones, McMahon (Hoyt 80), Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz (c), Taylor (Johnson 85), O`Neil, Shawky, Downing, King (Alves 55), Tuncay. Subs not used: Turnbull, Emnes, Arca, Grounds.