[Premier League] Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City
ManUtd: Marouane Fellaini (21), Juan Mata (59)
Stoke: Steven Nzonzi (39)
Manchester United recorded a fourth win in a row for the first time since December 2013 with a 2-1 triumph over Stoke City at a chilly Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
Marouane Fellaini’s first-half header and Juan Mata’s free-kick - from which Marcos Rojo tried to claim a decisive touch - ensured the Reds collected another three points, although, not for the first time this season, an inspired moment from David De Gea was needed to safeguard the victory. Steven Nzonzi equalised for the Potters before the break and Mame Biram Diouf almost did the same, twice, in the dying seconds of the game but was thwarted by the Reds' no.1 and then an Ashley Young goal-line clearance.
The absence of the injured Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria from United's team-sheet may have given the visitors a lift, but Asmir Begovic threatened to ruin a fairly trouble-free opening for Stoke with a careless pass to Robin van Persie. The Stoke goalkeeper's blushes were spared when Ander Herrera scooped over from the Dutchman’s pass.
Refusing to focus on the missed opportunity, Herrera – deployed behind James Wilson and van Persie – showed fine movement to drift wide before sending in a looping cross for the towering Fellaini to nod home at the back post.
United looked comfortable as the half progressed and were unfortunate to be pegged back with six minutes to go before the break. As Fellaini collapsed to the floor with what appeared to be a neck problem, Bojan Krkic’s charge was halted by the Reds defence before the ball ricocheted towards Nzonzi for a 20-yard drive beyond De Gea’s left palm.
Louis van Gaal’s men swiftly tried to hit back, with Young drawing a foul as he ventured forward. The resulting free-kick was headed only as far as van Persie, whose follow-up deflected to Fellaini for a low shot that failed to sneak under Begovic’s torso.
The hosts restarted the match with greater impetus, which was rewarded shortly before the hour mark courtesy of a Mata free-kick. Designed to find the head of a team-mate, the Spaniard’s set-piece narrowly avoided Marcos Rojo but the accuracy of the cross ensured it bounced beyond a powerless goalkeeper to find the far corner.
James Wilson’s blistering pace brought him agonisingly close to registering his first goal of the season with 20 minutes remaining. The young forward left Marc Wilson in his wake and evaded the challenge of the retreating Ryan Shawcross before side-footing inches wide.
United looked keen to at least match the three-goal haul accumulated against Hull City at the weekend, with Herrera hoping to combine with Fellaini once again by teeing up the Belgian for a shot that was sliced off target. Following the miss, the energetic Wilson departed to a standing ovation as Falcao was introduced for the final 12 minutes.
The fragility of United's lead was reflected when De Gea was called upon to parry Diouf’s late header, before the former Reds striker was denied on the line by Young. The final whistle was greeted with sighs of relief around Old Trafford as van Gaal’s side heaped more pressure on the league’s top three teams.
Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Young, Herrera (Fletcher), Fellaini, Carrick, Mata (Januzaj), van Persie, Wilson (Falcao).
Substitutes: Lindegaard, Falcao, Januzaj, Fletcher, McNair, Blackett, W Keane.
Stoke City: Begovic; Bardsley, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Cameron, Nzonzi; Ireland (Arnautovic), Bojan, Assaidi (Crouch); Diouf.
Substitutes: Butland; Muniesa, Palacios, Arnautovic, Adam, Crouch, Shenton.