United cruised to a comfortable win without really getting out of second gear as Stoke struggled to create a chance to test rookie keeper Ben AmosManchester United closed the gap at the top of the table with leader Manchester City with a 2-0 win over Stoke City at Old Trafford.
The game struggled to get going at times as United dominated possession without ever creating a clear cut opportunity. Both goals came from the penalty spot as Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez got on the scoresheet on either side of halftime.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had something of a goalkeeping crisis before kick off with both David De Gea and Anders Lindegaard ruled out. Ben Amos was called in to make his Premier League debut for the club. There were five other changes to the side that beat Arsenal in its last league match with Park, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez all named in the starting lineup.
Tony Pulis also made a handful of changes from his club's last league outing with Andy Wilkinson, Jermaine Pennant, Kenwyne Jones, Dean Whitehead and Wilson Palacios all coming in to the side. Jonathan Woodgate, Glen Whelan, Rory Delap and Matthew Etherington dropped to the bench while Ryan Shotton was not involved at all.
It took both teams a while to get going on a cold evening in Manchester, as the sides had wayward efforts in the opening quarter of the game. But it wasn’t until the 20th minute that a shot caused worry to either goalkeeper.
With United almost camped on the edge of the Stoke penalty area the pressure earned it a corner. It was taken short and as the cross was cleared the loose ball fell to Johnny Evans, who back flicked the ball to Scholes on the edge of the area. The midfielder set himself and fired in a low volley that seemed destined for the bottom corner but a slight deflection of a crowd of Stoke defenders took the ball inches wide of the post.
The home side continued to dominate possession but without really causing Thomas Sorensen any concern at all. Just after the half hour, United’s other central midfielder Michael Carrick had the goal in his sights but like Scholes before him he fired wide of the post. Carrick, Park and Berbatov combined neatly to release the midfielder inside the penalty area but his low shot across Sorensen was just beyond the far post.
There were only eight minutes of the half remaining when the game finally got the goal it had needed and it went to the home side from the penalty spot. Berbatov and Scholes combined to release Park in the penalty area and the South Korean was brought down by a sliding tackle from Jermaine Pennant. Hernandez grabbed the ball and calmly fired past Sorensen to put his side ahead.
With the second half beginning as the first had ended United continued to control the game and eight minutes into the half it was awarded its second penalty of the game and this time it was Berbatov who made no mistake. Jon Walters and Antonio Valencia tangled in the penalty area and when the Ecuadorian fell to the floor referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot. Berbatov calmly stepped up and fired it past the dive of Sorensen.
United continued to dominate but once again chances were few and far between. In fact, one of the best chances fell to Stoke and substitute Cameron Jerome just after the hour. The striker, who had replaced Crouch, jumped well above Johnny Evans but his effort was easily saved by Amos.
The home side cruised its way through the final half hour of the match but again it was unable to fashion many clear cut chances as Stoke remained defiant in defense. Scholes saw a late chance well blocked by Robert Huth and Patrice Evra felt he should have had another penalty but his claims were waved away by the referee.