On the back of a good result against West Brom, United could put their much talked about away form behind them as they entertained Stoke City in the first match at Old Trafford in 2011. Stoke’s record against United has been very poor to say the least, having not beaten the reds in nearly 30 years and with only a handful of goals to show for it. This coupled with United’s unbeaten status so far this term, and the return of Nani, so often United’s catalyst this season meant the omens were good for Fergie’s side. Chris Smalling was also handed his first start in the premier league for United, as he continues to build his reputation as one of the hottest talents in English football. Unfortunately however, Wayne Rooney had failed to pass a late fitness test casting doubt over whether he will be able to face Liverpool on Sunday. This allowed Javier Hernandez a rare start for the reds, after his winner against West Brom.
United began the game extremely brightly, with Berbatov, Nani, Giggs and Hernandez all looking threatening and playing with confidence. It was clear that United were greatly benefiting from having some genuine wide options, a lack of which has provided us problems in recent games, and on the half hour mark United were rewarded for their good start when Hernandez exquisitely diverted a Nani cross past Begovic. United continued to press, with Stoke surprisingly wasteful with their usually menacing set piece situations, and 1-0 appeared to be a relatively flattering score line at half time.
However, Stoke came out all guns blazing in the second half, and were rewarded 5 minutes in as Tuncay’s inch perfect cross was diverted in by Dean Whitehead levelling up the match. United have been pegged back many times this season, often at the cost of points which has prevented us from pulling away in the race for the title, however the Stoke equaliser galvanised United and we produced our best spell of the game. This period of dominance was capped by a superb winner from Nani on the hour mark, who exchanged passes with Hernandez, before smashing in a left footed thunderbolt into the top corner. Nani has now scored 7 goals, and gained 12 assists this season, underlining his undoubted quality and importance to the long term future of this United side.
Stoke were never able to rally themselves after the body blow of Nani’s strike, and United were allowed to close the game out with comfort, as Michael Owen returned to the United team after a long term absence. A great three points for United has been compounded by the fantastic results tonight, with Chelsea and Tottenham losing, and Arsenal and City drawing, leaving us in a fantastic position to win the title. However, perspective is needed as United still face tough away trips towards the back end of the season, and Ferguson will know as well as anyone that this race is far from over. Next for United, the small matter of a home FA Cup 3rd round clash against Liverpool, who suffered yet another defeat tonight in their season of turmoil. United will be desperate to compound their misery on Sunday and put together an overdue cup run.
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