Stoke V Middlesbrough at bet365 Stadium : Match Preview

03 March 2017
Stoke V Middlesbrough - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes defends decision to sideline Wilfried Bony

Stoke boss Mark Hughes feels Wilfried Bony has been "unlucky" since joining Stoke but has stressed the importance of players making the most of their opportunities.

The Potters signed Bony from Manchester City in August on a season-long loan deal and the striker started each of the next 10 games.

Having scored just twice in that time, he then dropped out of the first XI, and his only Stoke appearance since came as a substitute against Liverpool on December 27.

Bony was at the African Nations Cup with the Ivory Coast in January, then spent a couple of Stoke games as an unused substitute again before being left out of the matchday squad entirely.

Meanwhile, Peter Crouch has been scoring for the Staffordshire outfit and they have signed Saido Berahino.

On Thursday Bony was quoted by the BBC as saying of his situation: "When you hear everything is fine (from your manager) and you don't play, it's crazy."

When asked about that on Friday, Hughes said: "Wilf's been a little bit unlucky.

"He had a good run of games initially when he came here and it is fair to say he didn't score as many goals as he or I would have liked.

"He went out of the team and then he went to the African Nations Cup.

"Peter Crouch came into the side and did really well, and it has been difficult for Wilf to get back in. We have brought Saido Berahino into the club as well, so that is an extra striker on the books.

"So he is just going to have to be patient.

"When they are out of the side, good players get a little bit frustrated, but that's where he is at the moment.

"When opportunities present themselves, players have to take them. He'll get opportunities I'm sure before the end of the season."

Hughes confirmed Bony had been available for Sunday's 4-0 loss at Tottenham and that the 28-year-old's omission from the 18 was simply a selection decision.

Crouch started the game, while Berahino and Mame Diouf were on the bench.

"Wilf is behind a couple of players," said Hughes, who was speaking at his press conference to preview Saturday's home clash with Middlesbrough.

"He missed out last weekend as a consequence and I'm assuming that is why he has had a little bit of reaction in the press.

"It's difficult at the moment."

Stoke winger Xherdan Shaqiri looks set to sit out once again on Saturday.

Shaqiri has missed the last four games due to a calf problem and, although he was due to train on Friday, it appears unlikely he will be involved against Boro.

Aitor Karanka has ordered Middlesbrough to approach each of their last 12 Premier League games as if they were cup finals in the battle for survival.

Boro have made it to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, where they will face Manchester City next weekend, but head coach Karanka wants his players to treat each of their remaining league games as sudden-death clashes.

The Teessiders are clear of the relegation zone only on goal difference and have not tasted top-flight victory since December 17.

The barren run continued with last Saturday's disappointing 1-0 defeat by fellow strugglers Crystal Palace.

Asked if the remaining games would be treated like cup finals, Karanka said: "It's the best way, to approach every game forgetting the other games because I don't think it's good to try to guess how many points we are going to take in the next one, two or three games.

"Nobody expected to lose against Crystal Palace, especially after our performances against good teams like Everton, and we lost.

"I said at the beginning of the season that we were going to be fighting until the last day. We have another 12 games and until the last day, I will be and the team will be working and trying to do our best."