Middlesbrough verdict: The key tactical switch which allowed Neil Warnock's side to beat Stoke City at the Riverside

One of Middlesbrough’s greatest attributes this season has been their ability to bounce back.

Sunday, 14th March 2021, 9:34 am

After last week’s controversial defeat at Swansea, Neil Warnock’s side will have felt aggrieved and deflated, yet this was evidence of their resolve.

A 3-0 win over Stoke at the Riverside, courtesy of goals from Grant Hall, Paddy McNair and substitute Nathanial Mendez-Laing, kept the Teessiders’ faint play-off hopes alive with ten games to go.

Warnock will feel his side should have claimed more points this term, which would have put them in the thick of the promotion battle.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Grant Hall of Middlesbrough celebrates with teammates after scoring against Stoke.

This, though, was an assured and controlled display which demonstrated their ability.

We take a closer look at some of the key talking points.


Boro recorded just 38 per cent possession in the first half and were put under pressure from the off.

A Stoke attack down the right saw Jacob Brown hit the post from a tight angle, yet the hosts managed to stay level before finding a foothold.

Boro took the lead on 21 minutes when an in-swinging corner from Marc Bola from the left was flicked on by Chuba Akpom and side-footed home by Hall.

That appeared to stifle Stoke who began to make more errors when trying to play out from the back.

The second goal came from a quick Boro counter attack as Bola won the ball back in his own half and played it forward to Bolasie, who then released McNair on the left.

After cutting inside, the Northern Ireland international curled his shot through the legs of defender Harry Souttar and into the far corner.

Stoke continued to dominate possession in the second half, with their best chance coming in the 76th minute when Steven Fletcher’s volley from a corner was excellently kept out by Marcus Bettinelli.

Another counter attack saw Boro add a third when Morsy fed Mendez-Laing, who chipped the ball past goalkeeper Angus Gunn.


Despite making three changes to his side, Warnock stuck with a back three and wing-backs, with Djed Spence replacing the injured Anfernee Dijksteel on the right.

Neeskens Kebano was also recalled to the starting XI and operated behind a front two of Chuba Akpom and Bolasie, yet Stoke’s 4-2-3-1 system gave them control in the early stages.

A change of shape to a 4-3-3 formation, with McNair moving into midfield, allowed Boro to press the Potters higher up the pitch and gave Warnock’s side more balance.

Bolasie and Kebano moved to the flanks and were given licence to roam and drift infield when the hosts attacked.

Stoke introduced winger Josh Tymon in the second half, with the 20-year-old operating on the left and Jack Clark moving to the right.

Despite a couple of scares, Boro maintained their organisation and discipline.

Star man

McNair’s switch from defence to midfield allowed Boro to gain momentum.

The 25-year-old showed composure in possession, including when he broke forward to score his side’s second goal.

Grant Hall and Dael Fry deserve mentions for keeping Stoke striker Steven Fletcher quiet for large spells.

Jonny Howson was also influential at the base of Boro’s midfield.

What’s next?

Boro will return to the Riverside on Tuesday when they’ll host Preston.

The Teessiders remain eight points off the play-off places with ten games to go.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Middlesbrough coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor