Stoke City 2-0 Middlesbrough: Marko Arnautovic double sees off sorry Boro
By Jack Wilkinson
Last Updated: 04/03/17 11:46pm
Marko Arnautovic scored twice as Stoke City deepened Middlesbrough's relegation fears with a 2-0 victory at the bet365 Stadium.
The game was hinged on a 13-minute spell in the first half, where the Austria international's fourth and fifth Premier League goals of the season put the game beyond Boro.
The Teessiders, who have now not scored in the league since January 31, rarely looked capable of hauling themselves back into contention as their wait for a league win stretched to 10 games.
As a result, Boro drop into the relegation zone, three points from safety, while Stoke, who atoned for last week's hammering at Tottenham, climb a place to ninth.
Glen Johnson and Geoff Cameron - making his first start since October - returned for Stoke while Aitor Karanka made five changes to the Boro side which lost at Crystal Palace.
One of those alterations, left-back George Friend endured a testing return after a five-week injury lay-off, with the Potters asking questions on his return.
The hosts had a lot of joy down the right in the opening exchanges, Peter Crouch and Joe Allen combining to release Arnautovic on 14 minutes.
He then delivered a cross into the six-yard box with so much pace that all Ramadan Sobhi could do was to send it crashing against the crossbar.
That was the only piece of real quality in the first half until Stoke hit the front thanks to the brilliance of Arnautovic shortly before the half hour.
Having evaded the offside trap, the forward's deft touch saw him control Glenn Whelan's long ball and knock it around Friend, before he rounded Victor Valdes and drilled home.
For the second, Arnautovic reacted quickest to Crouch's knock-down from a corner, swivelling converting from close range three minutes before the interval.
Karanka tried to freshen Boro up at the break by bringing on Cristhian Stuani, and the visitors posed a greater threat as the half wore on.
They had the ball in the back of the net on the hour, Ben Gibson firing the loose ball home from close range, but Bernardo was penalised for offside in the build-up.
Valdes' fine individual display prevented Stoke from running amok as the Spaniard thwarted Sobhi's late header and substitute Ibrahim Afellay in stoppage-time.
Either side of those, the hosts saw a claim for a penalty ignored by referee Craig Pawson after Gibson appeared to block Allen's goal-bound strike with his arm.
But the decision proved immaterial as Stoke ran out resounding winners to pile the pressure on Karanka's men.
Stoke City: Grant (6), Johnson (6), Shawcross (7), Martins Indi (7), Pieters (7), Cameron (8), Whelan (7), Sobhi (8), Allen (7), Arnautovic (9), Crouch (7).
Used subs: Berahino (4), Afellay (n/a), Diouf (5).
Middlesbrough: Valdes (5), Da Silva (5), Ayala (3), Gibson (6), Friend (4), Leadbitter (5), de Roon (5), Clayton (5), Traore (5), Gestede (5), Ramirez (4).
Used subs: Bernardo (5), Stuani (6), Guedioura (4).
Man of the Match: Marko Arnautovic.