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Premier League

  • 4 January 2011
  • • 20:00
  • • Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Referee: M. Clattenburg
  • • Attendance: 73401
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Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City: Sublime Nani finish opens three point lead in title race

Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City: Sublime Nani finish opens three point lead in title race

Red Devils extend unbeaten record thanks to two moments of brilliance

Manchester United's unbeaten record still remains but so does their 'unconvinceables' tag, as Sir Alex Ferguson's side failed once again to fire on all cylinders against a resilient opposition.

Javier Hernandez rounded off a fine move to put the hosts ahead but after the interval, United's exhibited another defensive lapse, which has been all too frequent this term, and allowed Dean Whitehead to equalise.

Nani, returning from injury, was United's saviour twelve minutes later with an excellent strike but Ferguson's men continue to ride their luck after obtaining another three points through a stuttering display.

The game started fairly even as the six changes to United's line-up seemed to disrupt their rhythm, while Stoke showed they weren’t afraid to attack with the likes of Matthew Etherington and Tuncay willing to spring forward at the earliest opportunity.

Few chances emerged in the first fifteen minutes, as the final ball let United down on several occasions. However, it was clear Stoke City's attacking threat was going to be short-lived, as they quickly left all the forward-thinking football to the hosts.

Darron Gibson showed he was in his usual shoot-on-sight mood in a rare start, as he flashed a shot over the bar from range which was as close as anyone came in the opening exchanges.

United began to impress their superior quality by maintaining possession more effectively, but they still created very little until the 27th minute when a moment of brilliance broke the deadlock. 

Dimitar Berbatov played the ball out to Nani, who had far too much time to pick out his man in the middle, which he did to perfection. Hernandez was making a dart to the near post and met the cross with a beautiful back-heel flick which Asmir Begovic, in the Stoke goal, clearly was not expecting as it beat him at his near post.

But United once again showed an inability to replicate their old trait of being able to kill off teams before the half-time whistle, as they failed to press for a second goal.

By the 37th minute, it was a Nani-Hernandez combination that saw United come close to doubling their lead. 

The Portuguese winger nodded the ball back across the danger area which again was met by the Mexican but his shot blazed over the bar.

As the first half came to the close, it appeared to be a performance typical of United this season. The hosts had not been able to dominate the game but the lack of adventure shown by Stoke made it all the more easier.


                                Mexican maestro | Hernandez gave United a first-half lead

The second half started much the same as the first had finished - Manchester United weren’t entirely taking the game to Stoke, but looked comfortable. 

That was until five minutes after the interval, when Tuncay picked up the ball on the left flank and was allowed to put a cross in at his leisure. Whitehead who had made a burst into the box, got the better of Vidic, and nodded home.

Stoke, buoyed by this goal against the run of play, started to show an assertive presence in an attempt to rattle United further.

But up stepped Nani 12 minutes later to become United's latest hero, as the Portuguese winger knocked the ball out of his feet to give himself half a yard before curling his effort into the far corner, which left Begovic with no chance. 

It was another moment of fantastic quality from United which made the difference between the sides.

Stoke looked to get back on level ground by bringing on Jon Walters and Jermaine Pennant for Etherington and Rory Delap, but it was United who continued to attack as Gibson broke down the right leading to a handball shout in the Stoke box.

Whether it was the substitutions or the weariness of Stoke, United were very comfortable for the rest of the game as they continued to hold on to possession and had a significant territory advantage as well.

Michael Owen was brought on for his first appearance since October, but on the basis of Hernandez's influential display, the 31-year-old may have a tough job of displacing the Mexican.

The win, which may cause concern, as well as relief for Ferguson puts United three points clear of Manchester City, while Stoke remain in eighth place.

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