Middlesbrough 1 Stoke City 1: Top-flight return for Boro offers promising early signs

Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic (left) and Middlesbrough's   Emilio Nsue battle for the ball. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic (left) and Middlesbrough's Emilio Nsue battle for the ball. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
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Xherdan Shaqiri would happily trade personal plaudits for points after bringing his rich vein of goal-scoring form into the new season and denying Middlesbrough a winning return to the Premier League.

The Stoke schemer launched his campaign with a stunning free-kick to grab a 1-1 draw at the Riverside just weeks after lighting up the Euro 2016 finals with an acrobatic overhead strike for Switzerland against Poland.

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka

However, for all the praise he has received as a result of his efforts, he insists it is the team which matters more.

Shaqiri said: “For me, it is more important to help the team. Of course it’s always nice to score for a player. But I feel fit, I feel very good and that’s more important so I can help the team more.

“We are looking forward to the next games – we have a lot of games to play. It’s a long season. I am pleased to help my team, really happy to help the team to this point. It was important for the first game.

“We’ll take this point.

“Of course, we want to win every game, but a draw is a good start and we will keep going and make sure that we look forward to the next games.”

Stoke had to work hard to emerge from their trip with something to show for their efforts after Boro threatened to mark their return to the top flight with a victory.

It was they who took the lead with just 11 minutes played when debutant Alvaro Negredo climbed above defender Philipp Wollscheid to bundle the ball into the net after Gaston Ramirez had headed Albert Adomah’s cross back across goal.

It was the Teessiders, despite losing Marten de Roon to a hamstring injury, who continued to threaten on a more regular basis and they were denied a second when Ramirez fired a left-foot shot across Shay Given from the corner of the penalty area and saw it clip the post.

The former Southampton midfielder was enjoying his afternoon and he rattled the goal-frame once again in stoppage time, curling a corner against the crossbar with the goalkeeper beaten.

The 40-year-old Given was deputising for the injured Jack Butland.

The England international missed out with an injury to the ankle he had broken on international duty in March, although manager Mark Hughes later revealed fears that he had suffered a recurrence had been allayed.

Stoke rallied as the game wore on, but it took them until 23 minutes from time to get themselves back on terms.

Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic debated their respective claims to a free-kick 20 yards out, but it was the former who took charge, sending a swerving, dipping left-foot effort towards the bottom corner, where vastly-experienced Boro new boy Victor Valdes got a hand to the ball, but could not keep it out of his net.

The scorer said: “I was in a good mood, I felt very well so in the end, it was the right decision to shoot.”

Karanka admitted his side might have won the game, but was adamant they could not be disappointed with the draw after embarking upon the steepest of learning curves.

He said: “It’s the first step. We played well in the first 45 minutes and then in the second half, there were moments when the game was a little broken and we don’t like to play in that way.

“For that reason, we have to keep working to be consistent on the pitch. We played a really good game, but we know we have to work every single day as we worked today, and this is the way.

“It’s a season to learn, but we have to play and we are here because we deserve to be here. The crowd deserves to be here. It’s six or seven years since the last game and I am more than pleased for them.”

Middlesbrough full-back George Friend has signed a contract extension which will keep him at the Riverside until the summer of 2020.

The 28-year-old, who joined the club from Doncaster Rovers in July, 2012, played a key role in Boro’s promotion and has been named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year at the end of the last two campaigns.

Friend said: “For me, committing to the Boro for another four years is because of so many things – a fantastic chairman, a brilliant manager and staff, great team-mates, absolutely amazing fans and a beautiful area in which to live.

“I am very grateful and thankful to everyone who has encouraged and supported me. What I can promise in return is to continue to try to give 100 per cent commitment to the club.

“My grandfather taught me many things, one of which was to play every match with the same energy and focus as if I was playing on the world’s biggest stage.

“This is what I’ve always tried to do from the beginning of my career to now, as we stand on the threshold of the Premier League.

“In my eyes, the Riverside is the best and biggest stage and to be given the opportunity to extend that privilege is everything.”

Middlesbrough: Valdes, Nsue, Barragan, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, de Roon (Forshaw 22), Adomah, Ramirez (Nugent 88), Downing, Negredo. Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Rhodes, Fischer, Baptiste, Stuani.

Stoke City: Given, Bardsley, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Imbula, Whelan, Shaqiri, Krkic (Allen 78), Arnautovic, Diouf (Walters 69). Unused substitutes: Muniesa, Adam, Cameron, Crouch, Haugaard.

Referee: K Friend (Leices).