Everything you need to know about Middlesbrough's upcoming opponents Stoke City.
Middlesbrough will host Stoke City at the Riverside on Saturday and the sides fire may well be stoked following the injustice of their last match against Swansea. The frustrations from the reverse fixture may add more fuel to this fire after Warnock complained about the unsuitable changing rooms that the Potters provided. This could provide extra motivation for a side that has seen their hopes of getting a play off position drift away in recent weeks.
Meanwhile Stoke City, one of the other mid-table sides, has found it difficult in recent weeks as they have struggled to put points on the board. O’Neill will now looking to the future and is planning to fix the issues in the side in order to improve on their current standing next time out. He will be hoping to stabilise this season though as a losing mentality may seep into the squad for next season and so proving to be a long term issue.
Stoke City's Season So Far:
The Potters are currently just beneath Middlesbrough in 10th place with just 2 points separating the two sides and so the upcoming game could prove to be the perfect situation for Stoke to overtake the Teessiders.
Interestingly, Stoke City has scored the same number of goals as Middlesbrough and they have conceded just one more goal than their upcoming rivals which indicates that the sides are set to go into the game on as about a level playing field as is possible proving to ask more questions about possible outcomes rather than answering them.
The unpredicatablity of the fixture is also emphasised in the Potters season of results as it is almost even between wins, draws and loses showing that the opposition has had an equal chance of coming out with any of the three possibilities.
Form: W L L L W
The sides recent form may look concerning at first glance but a more detailed view indicates that there is more to these latest results. Each of the sides 3 defeats came at the hands of teams that were higher in the league, as Barnsley, Swansea and Brentford all managed to take three points away from the Potter. So their defeats in these games may well have been expected indicating that this run of form is not as bad as it first seemed.
While the sides two victories, against Luton Town and Wycombe Wanderers, shows that they are comfortable in dispatching sides beneath them and so indicating that the previously mentioned losses aren’t indicative of a change in circumstance for Stoke.
Yet we can learn something from these games as the side was relatively prolific in finding the net in 4 of the 5 occasions resulting in the side scoring 7 goals during this stint of games. The side averaged 1.4 goals per game during this run which is an improvement on the seasons average of 1.1 showing that they have hit one of their better runs of goalscoring form in recent weeks. Meanwhile all of the games that Stoke lost came after the opposition scored two goals showing that there is a potential weakness in catching up with a 2 goal deficit. Additionally two of these loses were a result of a comeback on the part of their opposition and so they look particularly fragile when defending a lead at the moment.
If Middlesbrough shouldn’t be disheartened if they concede early as recent form indicates that this isn’t necessarily the end of the fixture but if they can find the back of the net twice then they will be in good stead for getting the win.
Top Goalscorer: Nick Powell (11)
Most Assists: Tyrese Campbell (5)
Most Yellow Cards: James McClean (7)
Most Red Cards: James Chester, Nathan Collins, Rhys Norrington-Davies (1)
One To Watch: Nick Powell
This former Manchester United youngster has had an impressive season at Stoke City. He is the sides top goalscorer with 11 goals which is particularly impressive as he typically plays as a midfielder. His goalscoring rate indicates the type of player he is and what Manchester United had expected from him when they forked out £6.75 million to bring the then youngster to Old Trafford.
He was picked up for Manchester United after some impressive appearances for his home town club, Crewe Alexandra. He put in 0.46 direct goal involvements for Alexandra over his 63 game period at the club as he grew into an important player for the side averaging 72 minutes per appearance. His move to Manchester United was the only transfer that came with a fee showing how interested the Red Devils were in order to invest so much money on a prodigy.
He spent 6 years at the club but he failed to break into the first team; so his experiences at the club were limited to 9 cameos. He was also limited in the length of these appearances as he averaged 40 minutes per appearance. Despite this situation, the former Crewe player managed to find the net on 1 occasion.
A flurry of loan moves then followed as the Englishman was sent down the divisions to gain first team experience. His first move was to join Wigan on loan, a side that found themselves in an unusual predicament as they qualified for European competitions while they were relegated from the Premier League. Unfortunately Powell’s 7 goals and 2 assists were not enough to get the side promoted at the first time of asking as Wigan fell to defeat to QPR in the playoff semi-finals. Yet he was impressive in the Europa League that season as he scored a goal every other game; displaying his talents on the European stage.
He found another loan off the back of his performances for Wigan as Leicester City took him to the King Power stadium for the start of the 2014/2015 season. This loan was massively unsuccessful for Powell; making just 3 appearances for the first team to a total of just 40 minutes. He returned to Old Trafford on 2nd January 2015 where he remained for over a year due to an unfortunate injury.
His return to first team football came with Hull City where he struggled to make an impact failing to score or assist in his 5 appearances for the tigers. This threw his career into obscurity as his contract was running out and his two latest loan moves had ended in failure but Wigan Athletic offered the player a lifeline, signing him on a free transfer.
Powell returned to Wigan like a duck to water and he steadily began to put in the impressive displays that had once got him recognised by Manchester United. Pundits and reporters alike were praising the player for his ability with the player directly involved in a goal every 1.5 games (goal or assist). Wigan were promoted during his time at the club, a success which he definitely played a role in. He regained his reputation during his two years at Wigan; when his contract ran out with the Tics, he signed for Stoke City.
So far his Stoke City career has continued in the same vein as his Wigan one. The player has become a key man that is often the focus of their attacking moves. The former Manchester United player has been directly involved in a goal every other game for Stoke and he could surpass his current best goalscoring season as the player is just 4 goals away from tying with the 2017/2018 League 1 season tally.
The 26 year old is more than willing to have an attempt on goal as his 1.9 shots per game is the second highest in the side presenting his shooting as the biggest risk to Middlesbrough but his average 1.1 key passes per game highlights that he has the nous to create goalscoring situations for his teammates. The lack of involvement in general play, as the 11th highest pass average shows that the player has mostly conducted himself in the final third.
Middlesbrough will need to prevent the player from finding time on the ball as he is dangerous from these situations and subduing the sides top goalscorer would go a long way to giving the side a chance for success.
Hot Prospect: Nathan Collins
A current fan favourite at Stoke City, Nathan Collins was born in Leixlip, Ireland but moved to Stoke in 2016 where he joined up with the sides youth academy. Some may question whether he is a Stoke homegrown player as he was born and raised out of the country but his enthusiasm and passion on and off the pitch show that the player loves the club he plays for as he puts 100% in every game.
The talented 19 year old has been catching the eye of those at the club for sometime but he only made a serious claim for a starting role last season as he featured in 14 Championship matches. He has already improved on that figure this season as he has been involved in 22 games scoring two goals and getting an assist.
He is a formidable defender, standing at 6ft 4, he is a serious presence in the air and he has a reading of the game that is beyond his years. The player also has impressive long distribution helping to start counterattacks or aim for a target man; his short passing is solid but not particularly impressive and there are some indications that he could be caught out if he is pressed in these situations. He blends these attributes with his leadership as he took over the captaincy on a few occasions. Yet he can be found out, particularly when caught further up the pitch due to his lack of pace.
Ultimately, he has been linked with Arsenal and Burnley over recent months highlights the performances that he has been putting in and indicate that he has the potential to have a very good future in the game.
Manager: Michael O’Neill
The current Stoke City manager is not short of playing experience as his professional career spanned between 1984 and 2004; he made 409 appearances and scored 55 goals during his 20 year career. There is no doubt that he has used the experience from his time as a player in order to augment a coaching career that included 9 years at Northern Ireland.
Born in Portadown in Northern Ireland, O’Neill broke onto the scene for Coleraine as a 15 year old making 18 appearances and scoring 4 goals before he signed for Newcastle in 1987. This was the start of his journeyman career that saw him play for 13 clubs before he hung up his boots while playing in Scotland for Ayr United. He was also a Northern Ireland International during this time as he made 31 full international appearances between 1988 and 1996 scoring 4 goals.
He started his coaching career at lowly Brechin City in 2006; Shamrock Rovers followed in 2009 before he was given the top job for Northern Ireland. He impressed when leading the British nation and Stoke City offered him a step into coaching at club level which he accepted; juggling the two roles until he left International management in 2020. Now he focuses all of his attention on Stoke City and incrementally improving them in their bid for promotion.
The current Stoke City manager is also the proud owner of an MBE as he was awarded the medal following the Northern Ireland’s impressive run at Euro 2016. While this medal will be near impossible to beat, O’Neill will be intent on adding a Championship promotion medal to his awards cabinet.
Nathan Collins (Highlights):