Michael O’Neill will remain perplexed with Stoke’s inconsistency throughout this season, the Potters mixing up promising spells of form with losing streaks.
Nevertheless, they still sit in sixth position after 21 games, a scenario which would have been regarded as acceptable at the beginning of August.
After successive 1-0 defeats against Bristol City and Blackburn Rovers, Stoke responded with a brilliant 2-0 victory at Queens Park Rangers last weekend.
Not only did Stoke halt QPR’s run of scoring in 31 Championship fixtures in a row, Tyrese Campbell netted his second strike since returning from a serious knee injury.
Although O’Neill will not be getting carried away, the Northern Irishman knows that a favourable schedule awaits his team, and they have an opportunity to make progress towards the faltering top two.
Middlesbrough were accused of faltering either side of Neil Warnock being sacked and Chris Wilder being named as his replacement at the Riverside Stadium.
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However, back-to-back triumphs over Huddersfield Town and Swansea City have catapulted Boro back into contention for the top six ahead of making the trip to one of their rivals for that standing.
Middlesbrough are without a goal in the second half for seven outings, keeping things tight at the back has ensured that there remains reason for optimism among their fanbase.
While they visit Staffordshire having prevailed in just three of their 10 away games this season, seven points have being collected from their latest quartet of fixtures on the road