Fresh off the back of a professional demolition of Leeds United during the week, United faced perhaps their greatest test of the season with a visit to the notoriously difficult Britannia stadium to play Stoke City. Having never lost to the Potters since their promotion to the Premier League, United were looking to maintain their 100% start to the season with another 3 points against their North West rivals. United’s preparation for the game was hampered by an injury to Wayne Rooney, who now likely faces a short spell on the sidelines, paving the way for Dimitar Berbatov to make his first league start of the season, having finished top scorer last term. An injury in the warm up to Jonny Evans meant a late change in the side, with Antonio Valencia coming in to play right back, alongside Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones in the heart of the reds defence.
With Stoke likely to try and test United with an aerial siege, it was imperative that David De Gea remained strong, and prove his numerous critics in the media wrong with a solid performance. The young Spaniard didn’t get off to the best of starts however, flapping at an early cross with Valencia coming to the Spain U-21’s rescue with a timely clearance. United were quick to respond however, and should have been awarded a penalty just 3 minutes into the contest, as Jonathon Woodgate clattered into Javier Hernandez whilst clean through on goal, only for referee Peter Walton to wave away United protestations. To further compound United’s anguish, Hernandez was unable to continue after colliding with the goalkeeper, making way for Michael Owen fresh off the back of his brace against Leeds during the week. Stoke however seemed confident that they could exploit what looked on paper a weakened United side, and were constantly proving threatening whilst forcing mistakes from the careless midfield duo of Fletcher and Anderson. It was therefore largely against the run of play when United took the lead on 27 minutes, and similar to the game against Chelsea, the reds were thankful for a piece of individual genius from Nani, who twisted and turned the Stoke defence inside out, before unleashing a pin point left footed shot into the near corner.
Stoke were quick to respond from the disappointment of going behind, and were unfortunate not to level the game immediately as Wilkinson thrashed a powerful shot towards goal, only for De Gea to meet it with a strong hand and lightning quick reflexes to beat it away, preserving United’s lead. The young Spaniard was again called into action minutes later, as John Walters’ shot found its way through the legs of Patrice Evra, forcing De Gea to spring to his right and tip it around the post, ensuring United went into the break ahead, albeit with a precarious lead. Despite warnings in the first period that Stoke were a danger, United failed to fully heed them in the second half, continuing to give the ball away carelessly and inviting Stoke pressure. Eventually, the pressure told on the 52 minute mark, as a swinging corner was met by the head of Peter Crouch to nod home the equaliser and his first goal for his new club. With Unite seemingly reeling, Stoke continued their impressive second half and nearly took a remarkable lead again through Crouch, who chested down, volleyed at goal, but was again thwarted by De Gea making his 3rd crucial save of the match.
With time fast running out for United to salvage the 3 points, Fergie turned to Giggs and Welbeck for the last 20 minutes to try and inject some energy into a lethargic performance. It was clear that Stoke were now more edgy, and content to take a point, which allowed United to build up some sustained pressure with Giggs twisting and turning on the left causing serious problems. As full time approached, United were presented with a golden chance to win the game, as Nani’s cross was floated into the back post, and met by Giggs who could only slice is volley wide from 5 yards out and in the process ending United’s chance of what in fairness would have been a fortuitous victory. Next for the reds, the visit of Basle in the Champions League.
De Gea – 7 Some excellent saves throughout the match, work to do from crosses however.
Valencia – 7 Played well out of position and on short notice.
Ferdinand – 6 Given a torrid time by Crouch.
Jones – 7 Probably United’s best attacking force throughout the game!
Evra – 7 Another good performance from Evra, slowly coming back to form.
Nani – 7 MOTM Superbly taken goal, United’s only genuine threat in final 3rd.
Anderson – 6 Wasteful on the ball despite driving the team forward well.
Fletcher – 5 Failed to assert himself on the game at all.
Young – 6 Struggling for form since returning from England duty.
Berbatov – 5 United days are very numbered on current showing.
Hernandez – subbed after 3 minutes.
Owen – 5 Failed to capitalise upon good performance v Leeds.
Giggs – 7 So nearly made the telling difference for United. Changed momentum of match.
Welbeck – 6 Provided dynamism which was sorely lacking in first hour of match.