Michael Carrick blames lack of a spark upfront for Middlesbrough's failure to beat Stoke
Boro scored the opening goal of the contest when Chuba Akpom finished a neat counter-attack to grab his 23rd of the season after Ben Pearson was dispossessed in the middle of the park midway through the first period. Stoke came into the game in fine fettle themselves and levelled matters up on the stroke of half-time when Josh Laurent played in Wolves loanee Ki-Jana Hoever, who drilled in from close range for his third goal in two games. Middlesbrough's winning league run at home stretching back to December was ended although their unbeaten run continues, and they move within three points of Sheffield United who sit in second. Carrick admitted his team were far from their best but gave credit to Stoke, who are now unbeaten in their last three. He told a press conference: "I thought it was a tough game and credit to Stoke for that - they have obviously been on a good run. "It's probably the first time we have had that sort of game since I've been here at home. So it probably shows good the boys have done, in some ways there is a touch of frustration but I'm proud of the lads' effort. "It's one of those days where we played against a good team and did not quite have that spark or quality in the end." Carrick named an unchanged starting line-up from their 3-1 victory over Swansea at the weekend, with their meeting with Stoke being the second of three in a week - but the Boro boss rubbished ideas that his side look exhausted. Asked whether his side were tired, he replied: "No. The boys are human. It's alright when it's going well, all because we draw a game it does not mean it's wrong and everyone's tired. "I thought we finished the game really strong against Swansea on the weekend - we looked really fit and strong but today we played against a good team and they made it difficult for us. "We felt that was the right team tonight and I still back that - we just did not quite hit our best. Potters boss Alex Neil thought his side were unlucky not to pick up all three points and insisted they had the better chances in the second period against one of the promotion front-runners. He said: "I thought it was a really good and open game but I thought over the piece we had the better chances to win the game. "I thought we really tried to force the issue and win the game and obviously Middlesbrough have got bigger prizes that they are playing for. "We are trying to show everyone have far we've come over a short space of time, and I thought we did that. "I thought it was a good match between two good teams. To come away from home at a team that's playing as well as they are and to perform as well as we did, I am really pleased."
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