Home » EPL, Latest » Match Report: Man United 2 Stoke 0

Manchester United are not yet at full pelt in their private race to overtake the neighbours at the top of the Premier League – the cavalry charges of old have become a rare sight this season – though if the task now is to hang on to Manchester City’s coat-tails, to use Sir Alex Ferguson’s expression, it was accomplished here with a minimum of fuss.

Two penalties earned United the points against a disappointing Stoke, who can frighten the best on their own ground but offered little threat of any kind in Manchester. It was a poor game and an unmemorable occasion, until news from Goodison filtered through midway through the second half and Old Trafford found its voice. The points are more or less all that matters now, and as long as United keep going virtually any stage of the season could become a turning point.

With David de Gea ill and Anders Lindegaard injured in training Sir Alex Ferguson opted to hand Ben Amos a Premier League debut, with Tomasz Kuszczak on the bench. De Gea may have been stood down anyway after his poor performance at Liverpool, but the 21-year-old Amos must have been apprehensive at being pitched in at short notice against Stoke.

Jon Walters and Kenwyne Jones tried to test the new goalkeeper with long-range shots early in the game, though both flew harmlessly wide, and Amos dealt with his first cross from Jermaine Pennant comfortably enough. Ferguson has just taken issue with Alan Hansen over how well United have been playing of late, pointing out how many key players are out injured, though what cannot be denied is that the present selection look to Paul Scholes for inspiration to a surprising degree, considering his age and the fact it is less than a month since he returned.

Antonio Valencia offers a more forceful presence on the right wing, but within a matter of a few weeks Scholes has become United’s go-to man again, not only controlling the tempo in midfield but frequently looking the most likely to score a goal. The veteran almost had one with a typical drive from the edge of the Stoke penalty area that shaved Thomas Sorensen’s left-hand upright.

Valencia did make a few inroads down the right, but United found it a struggle to bring Javier Hernández or Dimitar Berbatov into the game, and it was another midfielder, Michael Carrick, who was next to shoot narrowly wide just after the half-hour. Stoke’s first-half attacks were limited, mainly by United’s cunning plan of cutting down their set-piece opportunities by keeping fouls to an absolute minimum.

Stoke must have wished they had thought of that when a softish penalty eight minutes before half time saw United take the lead. When Scholes played a short pass to set Park Ji-Sung running towards goal, Pennant was hurried into a challenge that took the man as well as the ball, leaving Hernández to score confidently from the spot. United appealed for another penalty shortly afterwards, though as Ryan Shawcross had his back to Hernández’s cross and the arm hit by the ball was by his side it was always an optimistic shout.

As if to underline the paucity of chances created from open play the second half opened with a penalty appeal as well, this one given. It was just as soft, Walters tugging at Valencia’s arm then trying to pretend he hadn’t, but once the winger went to ground the referee had little option as contact had been made. This time Berbatov took the kick from the spot, just managing to squeeze a low shot past Sorensen even though the goalkeeper went the right way.

Stoke tried to make a fight of it for a while, substitute Cameron Jerome bringing a scrambling save from Amos with a header, though the goalkeeper did not have much else to do for the rest of the evening and probably ended up wondering if Premier League games were always going to be this straightforward. United were so relaxed they brought on Paul Pogba for the last 15 minutes, and the substitute came as close as anyone else to scoring from open play, only to see his shot blocked by Walters.

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