Manchester United FINALLY won their first away game of the season, after a pulsating 2-1 win over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. In a game that could have ended with less than 22 men, Javier Hernández proved to be the hero in red yet again with a couple of Solskjaer-like goals. Gary Neville returned to the defence that featured O’Shea, Vidic and Ferdinand. Evra uncharacteristically played at wide left, with Fletcher, Scholes and Nani completing the midfield quartet, Berbatov and Hernández started up front. This was always going to be a feisty affair — Stoke are a tough side that challenge everything, and with their fans at their back, and taking into account United’s poor recent away form, one could expect a competitive match.
United began started strongly, Fletcher and Scholes dictating proceedings from the centre of the pitch. The most recognisable threat from Stoke was coming from the wide areas, and on more than occasion Nani was forced to track back and help out Neville against Etherington. Indeed, the latter managed to get Neville booked pretty early on, worryingly enough. Fletcher nearly put Berbatov through in the opening moments of the game, but ex-United boy Ryan Shawcross showed good awareness to deal with the danger. The obvious threat from Stoke came from set pieces — and yes, that includes the Delap throw-ins — but Vidic, Ferdinand and O’Shea did well to deal with every one of them. Robert Huth did come close from on of them, but his glancing header went harmlessly wide.
The United team sprang forward with great pace on every counter-attacking opportunity, especially so with the pace of Nani and Hernández. Berbatov too, never slowed down a break, and indeed was the force that drove the team forward on more than one occasion. It was a set-piece however, that finally provided the breakthrough for the visiting side. The Stoke defence switched off during a corner, and the short one taken between Nani and Evra looped onto the head of Vidic in the box, who played the ball across the six-yard box. And then, a moment of acrobatic genius from Chicharito provided the opener. The ball came slightly behind the striker, but he wonderfully managed to adjust his body and hit a backwards header into the net. There was a hairy moment just before half time, when Neville recklessly brought down Etherington again, and having already been booked, fans feared he might have been sent off. Referee Andre Marriner however, showed great sympathy and let the challenge go.
At the start of the second half, Sir Alex took off Neville as a cautionary measure, and replaced him with Wes Brown. The second half had a much slower tempo than the first, and indeed, cities could be justified in saying that United started becoming complacent in passing the ball around. Paul Scholes, O’Shea and Fletcher were all guilty of of gifting possession on more than one instance, therefore inviting more pressure from a Stoke side that had scored eight second half goals up to that point. And it became nine after 81 minutes. Tuncay, who came on as a substitute much to the delight of the home fans, cut in from the right, and got past Evra too easily, launching a rasping left-footed drive that nestled into the top corner of the net. United fans experienced a sickening dejá-vu, having given up an away lead yet again. But this time, it was different, because the team finally got their act together after conceding the goal. Berbatov made a great run in the final third and stood up a ball into the six-yard box. Controlled and hit on the spin by Evra, the ball fell in the path of Hernández, who showed tremendous predatory instincts to hit the ball first time past Sorensen. The day had been saved (relatively speaking).
It was a good first half performance, but it started to dwindle in the second half till Stoke scored the goal. Brown did well after coming on for Neville, and he is always a great option to have on the bench across the defence. The performance of Hernández will certainly please all fans and the manager, and if he keeps up his form, it will be interesting to see how Sir Alex manages the trio of Berbatov, Hernández and Rooney. It was an important win this, as United have already lost a good few points in recent games. There are some tough games coming up in the next few weeks, so it’s a good thing that the side has gone back to winning ways.
Best Moment: Chich’s winner
Worst Moment: Stoke equaliser/ Neville’s second tackle
Man of the Match: Javier Hernández/ Nemanja Vidic
Written by Sownak27