Red Devils extend unbeaten record thanks to two moments of brilliance...
Manchester United went into this home game hoping to extend their impressive undefeated record in the league, but would have to do so without Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand or Edwin van der Saar, none of whom were in the squad. Stoke were trying to get their first win against United in the Premier League.
Despite the disparity in the statistics it was a very even start to the game as the numerous changes to the home side’s line-up seemed to be disrupting their rhythm, whilst the visitors showed they weren’t afraid to attack with the likes of Matthew Etherington and Tuncay Sanli being especially adept to the counter-attack.
Few chances emerged in the first fifteen minutes with the final ball letting United down on the odd occasion. However it was clear that Stoke's attacking threat was going to be short-lived as they quickly left all the forward thinking football to the home side. Darron Gibson showed he was in his usual shoot on sight mood as he flashed a shot over the bar from range which was as close as anyone came in the opening exchanges.
Manchester United created very little until the 27th minute when a moment of brilliance broke the deadlock. Dimitar Berbatov played the ball out to the right to Nani who had far too much time to pick out his man in the middle which he did to perfection.
Javier Hernandez was making a darting run 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 leaving the former Portsmouth ‘keeper on his backside.
The home side didn’t really build on this in the way you may have expected them to as their only efforts on goal in the next ten minutes were wayward long range attempts from Nani. Marc Wilson from the opposing side had a similarly high and wide effort that was Stoke’s only real attempt on goal of the first half.
By the 37th minute though 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, seemingly taking a deflection, but the officials thought otherwise.
As the first half came to a close it appeared to be a performance typical of Manchester United this season. There is no way anyone could say they had totally dominated the game, or even played particularly well, but were winning the match thanks to a moment of brilliance, and without threatening too much themselves, also hadn’t looked too much like conceding.
It might not be inspirational stuff, but it’s effective and United were very happy with the lack of adventure shown by Stoke.
The second half started much the same as the first had finished as Manchester United weren’t entirely taking the game to Stoke, but looked comfortable. That was until five minutes into the half when Tuncay picked up the ball on the left flank and was allowed to put a cross in at his leisure.
This was clearly a dangerous thing to do with a man of his class and the Turk was more than capable of picking out Dean Whitehead who had made a burst into the box and left Vidic looking foolish to nod the ball in for the equaliser.
Stoke were buoyed by this goal against the run of play, and without creating much more seemed to start passing the ball a lot more confidently, and not letting United having their own way quite so much.
Berbatov showed his side’s frustration as a decent attacking position was wasted jointly by him and Nani which led to the Bulgarian venting his frustration.
Nani did not take long to make amends though as in the 62nd minute the Portugal international was fed the ball on the right hand edge of the penalty box by Hernandez.
Faced by a Stoke defender Nani simply controlled the ball, knocked it out of his feet to give himself half a yard and curled a shot into the far corner giving Begovic no chance. It was another moment of fantastic quality from United that was making the difference between the sides.
Stoke looked to address the imbalance by bringing on Jon Walters and Jermaine Pennant for Etherington and Rory Delap in the 69th minute, but it was United who continued to attack as instantly Gibson broke down the right leading to a handball shout in the Stoke box. A minute later there was a chance for Hernandez as well, although he blazed it over the bar.
The away side’s last throw of the dice was replacing Kenwyne Jones with Ricardo Fuller with 15 minutes to go, Tony Pulis clearly looking for a different way of taking the attack to United. Moments later it was Fuller that was claiming a penalty after a challenge from Gibson, but it was never a penalty.
In the 78th minute Michael Carrick and Michael Owen replaced Gibson and Hernandez as Ferguson looked to keep up the energy levels as the last ten minutes approached.
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 territorial advantage as well.
As the match petered out, Manchester United ran out comfortable winners, if not by scoreline, certainly by display. Ryan Giggs was impressively still a key man in the home side’s midfield as the 93rd minute ticked by. A late half chance for Owen was wasted, but the United fans won’t mind as yet another home win takes the Red Devils three points clear at the top of the Premier League.