Report courtesy of 7Cantonas.com
Manchester United won a good clash with Stoke City with goals from Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck, to stay four points behind Chelsea heading into a huge encounter next weekend.
United started fast and fairly bright, but Stoke’s intentions were clear, getting men deep behind the ball, forcing Jonny Evans to join in as an extra man in the attack as early as the third minute as the centre half brought the ball forward into a crowded final third area in front of the Stretford End.
Tony Pulis’ side carry their own threat and so it proved in the 11th minute; Charlie Adam free kick (given away by Scholes) was aimed towards Ryan Shawcross; the former United defender was marked by Wayne Rooney, and the forward headed the goal into his own net under relatively little pressure. Rooney has yet to score for United this season, and his first goal at Old Trafford this campaign will be one he will want to forget. Adam almost doubled the visitors advantage a minute later when his cross shot was drilled towards the near post, but David de Gea reacted superbly to keep the ball out.
The visitors continued to look threatening, with Adam in particular a menace, and United’s first chance of note coming from Welbeck after a link up with van Persie midway through the first half. The chance was almost immediately followed by another for Stoke – after Patrice Evra committed himself to a challenge he never looked likely to win in the Stoke half, the visitors broke and fashioned a chance through Jon Walters, which de Gea again had to be alert to stop.
de Gea’s saves turned out to be valuable; in the 27th minute, perhaps against the run of play and certainly against the balance, Wayne Rooney made amends for his aberration when he headed in his first proper goal of the season from a van Persie cross. The finish was straight forward, but the assist was fantastic; as was Rooney’s own determination to get into the right area having been involved in the build up.
Welbeck had started from the left but United’s best moments in the first half tended to come when van Persie drifted wide; from the Dutch striker’s long diagonal, Welbeck might have done better after receiving a pull back from Rooney, but his effort was high, wide and not so handsome. van Persie was involved again, bringing the ball forward and feeding Patrice Evra whose cross was headed on target by Rooney but saved comfortably by Begovic.
Welbeck did, of course, score his first ever goal for the club against Stoke with a long range effort in off the crossbar – and he so very nearly replicated the effort as the Reds really began to perform in the ascendancy, but his curling shot clipped the top of the bar in the 39th minute. Paul Scholes was booked shortly after for a crude challenge; his poor tackling is the stuff of legend, despite the urban myth that he has improved since coming out of retirement. He might have even got a second yellow a couple of minutes later as his wayward tackling threatened to become more costly by the second – he was fortunate to escape, but by that time, United had already taken the lead.
After such a difficult start, Sir Alex might have been ready to bemoan the missed opportunity to take advantage when his side were on top, but as the match moved into first half stoppage time, van Persie got the goal he so richly deserved – smartly converting Valencia’s fierce cross, to give his side the half time advantage.
Concern about Paul Scholes’ emergence for the second half lasted for less than a minute; not due to a dismissal, or in fact, anything to do with the midfielder – his side scored a third goal, once again beautifully crafted. Wayne Rooney’s cross from the right was exceptional, and Welbeck was on hand to convert from around 10 yards with his own first goal of the season. Jonny Evans almost made it four moments later but Begovic made a clever save from the header. Welbeck was next up to miss a chance, unable to meet a flashing cross from Rafael – United had gone from wondering if they could actually get a foothold in the game, to perhaps being concerned about profligacy. Just before the hour, they were given an answer – Michael Kightly, once dubbed the “non league Ryan Giggs” and once linked to United, took inspiration from the likes of Vertonghen and Bale and raced from the halfway line, evading a challenge and benefitting from a kind bounce on the ball to strike an effort at goal. De Gea got a touch, but only enough to push it on to the post and the ball crept over the line.
Just five minutes later United were afforded breathing room once again; their record from set pieces is traditionally pitiful but surprisingly, they’ve scored more than any other team from them this season – they added another when Wayne Rooney scored his 200th career goal from van Persie’s corner.
Ferguson took advantage of the healthy lead to make changes; Anderson coming for Scholes, Nani for Valencia and then Hernandez for Welbeck in a fairly short space of time. Michael Owen came on for Stoke and had a good opportunity from a corner – denied by van Persie – but from then on, the game petered out with the result never in question.
Three points, four goals, goals for Rooney and Welbeck; the only down point was once again falling behind, but that was tempered by another show of resilience from the hosts. Stoke provided a fine workout for United and with their enterprising approach, made for an entertaining game.
Man of the Match : Wayne Rooney
There’s a perfectly valid case for van Persie but with two goals – including his 200th career strike – and being involved in all that was good about United’s forward play, Rooney typified his team’s resilience after the early own goal. His performances over the international break, followed by this game, suggest United might benefit from a top class player in the right mood at the perfect time.