Stoke City manager Mark Hughes was left elated after Xherdan Shaqiri finally made a telling difference in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough just a few moments before potentially being withdrawn.
The Potters endured a mixed return to Premier League action at the Riverside, as they fell behind early on to Alvaro Negredo and produced a tepid first-half display.
After seemingly being given a stern telling off from Hughes at the break, Stoke improved in the second half and eventually levelled 23 minutes from time – Shaqiri firing a delightful free-kick across goal and into the bottom-right corner.
Until then the Switzerland international had been ineffective and was one of the primary candidates to be withdrawn as Hughes looked to change things towards the end, but Shaqiri left his mark at the crucial moment.
Hughes told reporters: “I think it is fair to say that I was looking at things and maybe Shaq [Shaqiri] would have been one of the players who I was debating taking off.
“We were in a position where we needed to change things and I was looking at a number of different options.
“We know how good a player and how effective a player he can be, so we were delighted when he managed to change the game for us with a wonderful strike.”
Despite a poor showing in the first half on Saturday, Hughes insisted that he came away from the match content with the draw and overall performance, but he is expecting an improvement.
“Overall, I would say that it was a pleasing first game of the season for us,” he added.
“We will get better, we know that, but coming here, to a newly promoted side on the opening day of the season always brings serious challenges with it.
“I thought we stood up to those challenges well, especially having fallen behind to an early goal.
“After we scored the goal, which came as we were in total control, I thought we produced more dynamic football and looked the more likely team to score the winning goal.
“Maybe in the first half we weren’t able to really get ourselves into the positions where we know we can cause problems and we maybe a little too static in our play.
“We spoke about that at half-time and rectified it and were thankfully, and deservedly, able to take something out of the game, which was important for us.”