Some late game heroics from Javier Hernandez, Manchester United earned their first away win in the 2010/11 Barclays Premier League season with a 2-1 victory over Stoke City.
In inexplicably, United threw away another lead after a wonderful bit of skill from Hernandez to give them a first-half lead, but a nice finish from Tuncay Sanli equalized, and it looked to be have given Stoke a share of the points, however, and thankfully, a late goal from Chicharito gave them all three points at the Britannia Stadium.
It was sheer test of focus for United to face such a very physical, disciplined Stoke after their drama during the week, but they withstood the test and earned all three points, and should kick on from here.
Sir Alex Ferguson made two interesting, but needed changes to the his formation by handing Gary Neville his second start of the season, and pushing Patrice Evra into the midfield as the left winger.
With the squad lacking depth and cover on the wings, putting Evra in advanced position has been obvious adjustment that was needed to be made by Ferguson, because the Frenchman loves to get forward and can also assist with the defending.
But the reason for the shifts was because he was concerned with The Potter’s aerial ability, which forced him to go with four very experienced defenders across his back-line to deal with Stoke’s deadly set pieces.
The first half-chance of the match came in the fourth minute to the home side as Jonathan Walters steered his shot well wide of Edwin van der Sar’s net.
United’s first chance came as they broke loose after a corner with a three-on-two break with Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Nani, but Chicharito’s laid-off header was poor, but Stoke cleared the danger.
In the 13th minute, Rory Delap was encouraged to shoot from distance after van der Sar’s hurried clearance fell to his feet, and with the goal gaping, the midfielder thankfully his effort tailed harmlessly away from an open United goal.
United took the lead in the 27th minute after some clever improvisation from Chicharito, as the little Mexican used his athletic ability to squirm away from his marker and used the back of his head to direct the ball into the Stoke net.
However, the commanding leadership and presence in the build up to the goal from Nemanja Vidic – as well as providing the assist – was vital in creating the half-chance for Hernandez.
Neville earned the first caution of the match after Andre Marriner deemed him to unfairly challenge Matthew Etherington with his studs, but, to be honest, it seemed it bit harsh by the referee.
Despite knowing their biggest threat was their height and power, United continued to needlessly give away set pieces and throw-ins from very dangerous areas.
Then Paul Scholes, who Marriner sent off against Spurs last season, was given a booking after he wildly slid in on former Liverpool and Arsenal winger, Jermaine Pennant.
United could have very easily got a second, because Thomas Sorensen clearance struck the hip of Chicharito, but the ball went over the Stoke City crossbar.
Speaking of his second, Neville foolishly slid in on Etherington again, and could have very easily been shown him his second yellow card, but, thankfully, this time the referee thought against brandishing it.
Berbatov did well to earn United a corner, and from the ensuing set piece, Evra latched onto the ball with his head, but it went just over the bar.
United had a free-kick in first-half stoppage-time, and Evra was picked out brilliantly, but his teasing through ball for Hernandez was cut-out expertly by a couple of Stoke defenders for a corner.
The corner saw Evra burst into the box, and he picked out an onrushing Vidic, but the United captain showed exactly why he is not a forward by blasting well over from a good position.
Unsurprisingly, Sir Alex replaced a Neville with a like-for-like with Wes Brown coming – but the former United skipper seemed a bit shocked by the manager’s decision and trudged down the sideline to the locker room.
Like they did at the start of the game, Stoke created the first chance after Pennant’s free-kick was flicked onto Ryan Shawcross, but the former United youngster was unable to make the proper connection from a very good position.
Nani was on the wrong end of a very stiff challenge from Danny Collins, and the Stoke right-back, rightfully, earned himself the first Stoke City card.
United had a fair shout for a penalty after Evra was clearly barged over in the Stoke City penalty box, but Marriner was in a poor position to see the unfair challenge by Delap.
Tony Pulis was forced to make his first change of the match replacing bringing on another for United youngster in their team, Danny Higginbotham, for Collins after the right-back could not continue after being on the end of hefty challenge from Wes Brown.
United were left scrambling to get back after Scholes cheaply gave the ball to Walters and it took some very disciplined last-ditch defending from Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and the culprit to kill off the chance for Stoke.
Marc Wilson, another former United youngster, picked up a booking in the 65th minute for a harsh challenge on Scholes, and the stoppage in play allowed Pulis to make his second change of the match, replacing his brute center forward, Walters, with the more sprightly Tuncay Sanli.
The substitution did its part by increasing the tempo of the match, and both teams had chances.
United had their second half-shout for a penalty when Evra’s cross hit the trail, out-of-place hand of Robert Huth, but Marriner was having none of it.
Michael Carrick was introduced to the match in the 70th minute for O’Shea, which pushed Evra into the United back-four, because Ferguson had the intention of United keeping more possession of the ball in the midfield.
United attacked down their left-hand side and Berbatov picked out Hernandez on the back stick, but the Mexican’s shot went painfully a whisker wide of Sorensen’s post.
The final substitution from Stoke was one that United fans did not want to see as Eidur Gudjohnsen came on for Pennant, because the Icelandic international scored against them during his days with Chelsea.
United were made to pay for another careless error after Paul Scholes passed the ball directly to Kenwyne Jones, and the ball made its way to Tuncay, and the Turk curled the his shot wonderfully into the top corner of the net.
Following the first-ever goal by Stoke against United, Nani did well to create a half-chance, but his near post shot was easily smothered by Sorensen.
After a good spell of possession Bebartov clipped the ball up to Evra, and the Frenchman’s weak shot went straight into the path of Hernandez and he calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net for his second goal of the match.
Following the goal, Ferguson brought on Gabriel Obertan for Scholes to inject more pace into the United counter attack.
From a difficult angle and from distance, Nani flashed his effort just wide of the Stoke City goal, which would have killed off the match had it gone in.
Deep into injury-time, Sorensen made a top-class, finger-tip save after it looked like Nani’s right-footed curling effort was destined for the back of the net.
In the end Manchester United got their just reward with their first away victory of the season, but Stoke City made Sir Alex Ferguson’s men work for all three points at the Britannia.
When United needed a spark, up stepped Javier Hernandez, and the ‘Little Pea’ scored two very well taken poacher goals for the Red Devils.
E. van der Sar – 6; G. Neville – 4 (W. Brown – 6), R. Ferdinand – 6, N. Vidic – 7, J. O’Shea – 6 (M. Carrick – 5); P. Evra – 7, D. Fletcher – 6, P. Scholes – 5 (G. Obertan – X), Nani – 7, D. Berbatov – 7, J. Hernandez – 8
J. Hernandez (27′), (86′)
Shots (On Target): 14 (3)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 14 (7)
Bookings: G. Neville, P. Scholes