[Premier League] Stoke City 2-1 Manchester United
Stoke: Charlie Adam (38, 52)
ManUtd: Robin van Persie (47)
Manchester United slipped to defeat at Stoke as two goals from Charlie Adam either side of Robin van Persie’s equaliser gave the home side all three points.
Both sides struggled to deal with the blustery conditions early on, and United were forced into a change after just 10 minutes when Rafael replaced the limping Jonny Evans. United, with the wind at their backs in the first half, had the majority of possession but rarely threatened the Stoke goal, while the hosts were reduced to long-range shots that failed to hit the target.
But just as the Reds looked to be gaining control, they fell behind in unlucky circumstances when Adam’s long-range free kick took a deflection off Michael Carrick’s right knee to send the ball to David De Gea’s right when the keeper looked to have it covered.
To make matters worse, the back four was rejigged again before the break when Phil Jones was carried off on a stretcher following a blow to the head, but after a welcome respite at half-time, United were soon back on level terms. Juan Mata’s deft touch gave van Persie the time and space to place the ball past Asmir Begovic for the equaliser, but Adam’s fierce half-volley five minutes later put the home side back into the lead.
United struggled to force their way back against their fired-up hosts until the closing stages, with their best chance a Wayne Rooney free-kick that Begovic brilliantly turned onto the post. Tom Cleverley blazed the ball over following the ensuing melee, before the final whistle ensured the Reds were beaten at Britannia Stadium for the first time.
The match United had the majority of possession in the early stages with the howling gale at their backs, while Stoke’s tactic of pumping the ball upfield high into the wind came to nothing. But the Reds paid for failing to capitalise on their dominance when Charlie Adam’s free-kick – questionably won by Jonathan Walters against Chris Smalling – put Stoke ahead against the run of play. Robin van Persie’s equaliser was quickly overturned by a screamer from Adam, and the hosts stayed on the front foot until a late siege on Asmir Begovic’s goal, with the Stoke keeper pulling off an incredible save to push Wayne Rooney’s free-kick onto his post.
The goals Adam used his nous to keep his free-kick low, but it is difficult to legislate for a deflection like the one that saw the ball cannon off Michael Carrick’s right knee to wrong-foot David De Gea. The Reds redressed the balance early in the second half when Juan Mata’s perfectly-weighted, first-time pass allowed van Persie to steady himself before placing the ball past Begovic. But if Adam’s first goal was lucky, the Scot’s second – a thunderous left-footed shot that tore past a helpless De Gea – was a great strike, although he was fortunate that poor control from Marko Arnautovic gave him his chance.
Star man Ashley Young used the conditions well on the left flank at times in the first half, putting in a couple of teasing crosses with the wind behind him. Mata pulled the strings throughout, but as the Reds became desperate for a second equaliser, the Spanish playmaker was forced to go deeper and deeper in search of the ball. Chris Smalling coped well with being shunted into central defence following the early injury to Evans.
Sub-plots How United would shape up with Mata, Rooney and van Persie in the same team had been the hottest of hot topics since the Spain international’s record-breaking move a week earlier. Mata was initially on the right of midfield, but United’s attacking options were fluid and the new boy began to pop up all over the place. But Jones’ sickening injury forced a reshuffle that saw Rooney drop back into midfield, so we have yet to truly see how this trio will influence the course of an entire match.
Opposition Before their goal, Stoke struggled to cope with the conditions when they did have the ball – failing to pressurise a reshuffled United back four or the keeper – but when without the ball they stopped the Reds from hitting their straps with a committed, physical approach. They opened up after Adam’s second, but after retreating in face of a late push from United, the Potters were grateful for a superb save that showed why Begovic is so highly-rated.
Move of the match Nice work from Patrice Evra on the left late on allowed Danny Welbeck a shooting opportunity, but the move broke down as the massed ranks of the Stoke defence held firm.
In the stands Occupying three quarters of the Pedigree Stand, United's travelling fans were in fine voice with 'Pride of all Europe', 'David Moyes' Red and White Army', a long-sustained 'The Manchester United Calypso' and other hits being belted out from behind the goal guarded by De Gea in the first half. The home crowd, supposedly one of the loudest in the country, reserved their highest volume for barracking match referee Neil Swarbrick whenever he penalised the Potters for a foul. A roar did greet their opening goal, however, and when the travelling Reds rallied with an even louder and bouncier Calypso, the Stoke fans brought out a brief rendition of their adopted anthem, the old Tom Jones/Alex Harvey hit ‘Delilah’. The home support ensured the seven minutes of time added on were played in a cacophony reminiscent of the old days under Tony Pulis.