Wayne Rooney scored his first Manchester United Premier League goals of the season this weekend to help secure victory over Stoke.
Rooney, however, had already netted at the wrong end to give Stoke the lead before he equalised with a fine header to convert a Van Persie cross. United had been in control, but a static midfield created very few chances for the Reds early on. Typically, Stokes greatest threat was from set pieces, so when Paul Scholes conceded a free kick near the corner flag the danger was high. Charlie Adam zipped his set piece towards the near post where, to the surprise of Rooney, it eluded everyone. The United striker had no time to adjust and inadvertently nodded into his own net.
It was the sixth time this season that United had fallen behind in a game, a worrying trend. Normally though you would see Fergusons men rally immediately after going a goal down early in a game, especially at Old Trafford. However, United were still lacking in movement, tempo and creativity and it was Stoke who twice came close to doubling their lead. David De Gea had to be at his best to keep out Charlie Adam, who’s cheeky near post shot forced the young ‘keeper react quickly, scrambling across his goal to turn the ball away.
Stoke were enjoying a short period of dominance following their goal and came close again to embarrassing the United defence. A flowing move from the visitors lead to the ball finding its way to Walters who, given the space and time he had, should have given the visitors a two goal lead. Fortunately De Gea came to United’s rescue again.
It wasn’t until the 29th minute that the Reds really got going thanks to the superb Van Persie cross and Rooney header to equalise. Chances up to that point had been few and far between, Danny Welbeck having the best chance, but not connecting properly outside the box saw his shot skew wide of the target. Not surprising though the goal changed the momentum of the game. United found their feet in midfield and Stoke began to sit deeper.
As pressure grew on the Stoke back four chances fell again to Rooney, Scholes and Welbeck. However, it was Van Persie who was at the heart of United’s new found threat, and it was the Dutchman who steered home an Antonio Valencia cross home shortly before the break. Stoke had completely switched off and Van Persie was in acres of space to give United the advantage at the break.
With no Kagawa or Cleverly in the side, United were counting more on their width than in previous games this season. The combination of Rafael and Valencia looked United’s most likely source of goals and so it proved to be. Evra worked hard getting forward but unlike Rafael was finding hard, again, to track back once a move had broken down. Stokes most dangerous looking attacks were when they attacked down the United left wing after a move had broken down. Whereas Rafael is putting in some excellent defensive displays, Evra continues to be a liability, leaving gaps at the back.
Danny Welbeck had been finding himself in some good positions, but his finishing had been letting him down. Though a twenty yard shot had United fans on their feet, his shot beating Begovic but not the cross bar. The young striker however made amends within two minutes of the second half though. Rooney pick the ball up on the right and whipped in a delightful cross for Welbeck who headed home in style.
United were now very comfortable, and Stoke were still offering very little in terms of a threat. Johnny Evans had kept Stokes aerial threat, and Peter Crouch in particular, at bay for the majority of the game. His good defensive work was close to being rewarded with a goal. Only an excellent save from Begovic prevented Evans’ header from sewing up the game.
4-1 would have certainly guaranteed the three points, but even at 3-1 United should have been able to see the game out comfortably. But typically of United, this season more than most, just as things looked to be going well, the game was thrown back in to the balance. Evra, with few options, went on a marauding run into the opposition half, but when he lost the ball the gaps in United’s midfield were exploited. With United’s defence backing off and dithering Kightly took an early shot which caught De Gea slightly unawares. The united keeper couldn’t get enough on the ball to parry it away and Kighlys effort trickled in off the post.
The following few minutes were nervy, with Stoke looking to gain some momentum after unexpectedly finding themselves back in the game. However, United were not about to let their lead slip and looked to regain a comfortable lead.
The pressure was once again eased thanks to again to Rooney. Stoke failed to clear a corner and were slow to react to the loose ball, unlike Rooney who turned and finished at the near post to restore the two goal advantage.
This time United were able to keep Stoke at bay, despite a rally for the Potters. In a game where United had been comfortable for the majority of the, though took their time to really get going, it was their attacking capabilities which prevented a second successive slip up at Old Trafford.
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