DEAN WHITEHEAD headed home Stoke City's first League goal at Old Trafford for more than 30 years . . . but it couldn't prevent their brave performance ending in defeat.
The £5 million midfielder glanced home a Tuncay cross with his head in the 51st minute to give the Potters genuine hope of getting a result against leaders Manchester United.
They were sunk in the end, however, by a stunning strike from Nani on the hour after Javier Hernandez had claimed the goal that put United in front in the 27th minute.
But although the final outcome was a familiar one for the Potters, this was a far cry from the heavy defeats which they had suffered in their previous two Barclays Premier League visits to Old Trafford and they were still in with a shout going into the closing stages.
Whitehead's goal, his second in the Premier League this season following his late winner against Birmingham City back in November, was the first for City at Old Trafford since Lee Chapman was on target for them in a 2-2 draw back in 1980.
Pulis made three changes to the side that started 2011 with a win over Everton, welcoming back Huth after his one-match suspension and also calling up Wilson and Tuncay. That meant Higginbotham, Pennant and Fuller dropped to the bench.
United had a number of notable absentees including Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Edwin Van Der Sar, but they welcomed back Nani and Ryan Giggs.
City managed to hold the Premier League leaders at bay in the early stages with the first threat coming when Darron Gibson tried his luck from long range after being set up by Patrice Evra, but although his effort skidded off the surface it flew wide.
When Tuncay switched play to the right hand side, Wilkinson was encouraged to venture forward and he forced the Potter's first corner of the game with his burst to the edge of the box as Fletcher chose a safety first approach to the danger.
A fantastic first time pass from Wilson was directed towards the advancing Collins, but he lost his balance and couldn't deliver a telling cross.
Wilkinson was then involved at the other end by making an important interception in typically full-blooded style to halt Berbatov in his tracks after a neat link-up between Giggs and Fletcher had given the Bulgarian a chance to break forward.
United were beginning to launch wave after wave of attacks and when Berbatov laid the ball off to Gibson he fired his shot high over the bar.
Berbatov was only inches away from giving United the lead in the 22nd minute with a first time shot after a Giggs pass broke to him at the far post.
The home side were then awarded a free kick when Nani was upended by Wilson, but Giggs' curling effort from 25 yards out cleared the bar comfortably.
But United went in front in the 27th minute with what appeared to be an own goal from Shawcross although Hernandez was claiming the credit for it.
Nani was the creator of the breakthrough with a low cross from the right which Hernandez tried to back heel at the near post, but it squeezed past Begovic after appearing to take a deflection off Shawcross as he slid in to make the challenge.
City posed little threat in their attempt to get back into the game, although Wilson looked impressive and he tried a long range drive which flew over.
The half ended with Vidic shielding the ball back to Kuszczak under pressure from Tuncay after Jones had flicked on a Delap pass and then Etherington found space to unleash another effort from fully 25 yards out that flew over the bar.
Pulis' side made an encouraging start to the second half as they held onto possession and pushed United back for a period.
It brought its reward five minutes after the break with a well-worked equaliser to give the Potters hope of getting something out of the game.
Tuncay was instrumental in setting the goal up as he advanced forward and then cut in from the left to pick out Whitehead breaking into the box who glanced his header past the reach of the diving Kuszczak and in at the far post.
United struggled to recover from that setback and they looked a little edgy on the ball as passes went astray and City stood firm.
But the Potters' optimism was short-lived as United restored their lead at the halfway point in the half with a splendid strike from Nani.
The Portuguese star was picked out by a pass from Hernandez on the right hand edge of the box and although he had three City players in front of him, he made sufficient space to curl a left foot shot beyond the reach of the diving Begovic.
Pulis made a couple of changes shortly after that, introducing Pennant and Walters in place of Etherington and Delap, while a third substitution saw Fuller replace Jones as the Potters looked to try and salvage a point.
But it was Hernandez who showed his real threat around the box once again when he fired a shot over the bar after Rafael's burst into the box.
With Fuller spearheading the attack, City had their moments going forward and if anything it was United who were happy for time to tick away.