Stoke City beat Manchester United 2-1 at the Britannia yesterday to compound more misery on David Moyes.
Charlie Adam got particularly lucky with his first strike, which saw his dead ball shot take a cruel deflection off Michael Carrick. However his second goal was an impressive strike that flew past a helpless David De Gea into the top corner. Robin Van Persie pulled United level in the second half when he was played in by Juan Mata but Charlie Adam's second goal proved the match-winner.
The battlefield of The Britannia no longer holds any secrets to visiting teams despite Mark Hughes announcing his desire to change the style of Stoke City, old habits tend to die hard, which was apparent in the opening stages as Stoke clocked up a foul count that eventually reached 18, compared to Manchester United's 7. This approach could be accused of contributing the injuries to Jonny Evans early on, which unsettled United.
Then, Phil Jones, in his usual reckless but brave manner, flew into Jonathan Walters and a head injury caused Jones to exit the pitch on a stretcher. This was a shame for United because Jones was immense in the opening thirty minutes.
A reshuffling of the back four plunged Michael Carrick into an unfamiliar centre-back role as Rafael took up the right back berth. This forced Wayne Rooney to drop into the centre-midfield alongside Tom Cleverley. This alteration probably contributed to United's lack of cohesion but some parts of Manchester United's game plan was mystifying.
Ashley Young was responsible for many poorly delivered corners. His goal against Cardiff was a stunner, but the judgement of many United fans remains clear- Ashley Young is not good enough. The choice to have him take some set-pieces was puzzling, with the likes of RVP, Rooney and Mata on the pitch - but to be fair, when Mata stepped up, his delivery was also poor all day.
The gusty conditions played into Stoke's favour as they began to rediscover the long diagonal balls of the Tony Pulis era.
Some attacks from United threatened to be meaningful. Wayne Rooney had a volley in the first half from an Evra rampage down the left hand side. This looked like an area to target early on for United as Odemwinge was lackadaisical to say the least, but typically United failed to capitalise. Ashley Young missed a free header where he could have took the ball down, signed it, complete a cryptic crossword and then put it in the net. A free-kick from Rooney hit the woodwork late on and a scramble ensued in the box before Cleverley shovelled the ball over.
The additional seven minutes at the end of the game was justified for the amount of time-wasting Stoke's players employed, but Stoke managed to resist the limp United. Wayne Rooney was United's biggest threat but he still looked sluggish- suggesting Sir Alex Ferguson's assessment that the striker needs continuous playing time to be performing at an optimum level to be true.
Credit given to Stoke is deserved. They hurried United, remaining determined throughout and the points gained could be massive for Mark Hughes and his clubs survival.
Chris Smalling was united's best player on a grim day. He commanded the air against the towering Peter Crouch and helped maintain some defensive stability despite losing two of his fellow defenders to injury.
Questions remain about the system used because Juan Mata didn't look entirely comfortable on the flank. The overall form of the wingers is mediocre which makes you wonder why David Moyes persists with wide men. Maybe he's scared of breaking that Manchester United tradition, but sooner much rather than later he has to implement ideas to inject a freshness to this team because even with the big guns returning against Stoke, United look creatively numb.
On their return to Manchester, the pressure mounts on David Moyes and this performance typified the inconsistencies this season has demonstrated about this Manchester United team. Stoke made their relatively small amount of possession count and the scalp of Manchester United remains a massive lift for any side battling relegation.
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