Boro’s Under-23s picked up a first win of the PL2 season thanks to a goal from strike partners Stephen Walker and Tyrone O’Neill either side of half-time at Rockliffe Park.
Having drawn up the road at Newcastle on the opening day of the league campaign, Graeme Lee’s side were bolstered by a number of first team faces as they deservedly earned the three points on home soil.
Nathan Wood, Marc Bola, Lewis Wing, Hayden Coulson, Sam Folarin and Stephen Walker all started the game having turned out for our senior side this season, picking up more competitive minutes under the watchful eyes of first team coaches Kevin Blackwell and Ronnie Jepson as well as club captain Britt Assombalonga.
Boro’s youngsters started on the front foot in the Rockliffe sunshine, and Walker could count himself unlucky not to have a hat trick inside five minutes.
The forward’s first touch was to intercept a poor City back pass, and his snapshot came back off the crossbar via Stoke’s goalkeeper Paul Cooper. Moments later, he did find the net when he redirected Ben Liddle’s effort home, but this time the linesman’s flag was up for offside.
And the lively marksman was involved again before the match was five minutes old, receiving the ball from Bola and working the into his right foot inside the area before drawing a good save from the visiting glovesman.
Boro continued to be on top as the first half wore on, Lewis Wing stinging the palms of the man between the Stoke posts with a trademark drive from distance after a clever piece of skill from Hayden Coulson.
Eventually, the home side did take the lead, Walker the man to provide it. The move started in the right back area with Daniel Dodds, then a smart turn from Tyrone O’Neill put Boro on the offensive. Sam Folarin put on the afterburners along the byline, cutting back to Walker for a simple finish.
The Teessiders started similarly strongly in the second half, and O’Neill showed bravery to prod home our second goal amongst a crowd of bodies following good footwork from partner Walker.
Stoke looked most threatening from set pieces, and having seen one header saved by Zach Hemming and another cleared off the line by Coulson, they seemed to have pulled one back from a corner when sub Ethon Varian bundled home, but the linesman spotted a handball.
Boro man Dodds, full of running from full-back, streaked clear late on but his lofted effort fell wide of the mark.