A WAYNE ROONEY brace on the tenth-anniversary of his maiden Premier League strike helped Manchester United to a 4-2 victory against the Potters on Saturday . . . although the visitors will be left to wonder what could have been had they displayed a more ruthless streak during the opening 45 minutes.
Ironically enough, Tony Pulis’ side got the game off to the perfect start just eleven minutes in as a teasing Charlie Adam centre was diverted into his own net by England international Rooney.
Adam then forced David De Gea into a superb save down to his right, whilst Republic of Ireland ace Jonathan Walters spurned a glorious opportunity of doubling the advantage soon after. Stoke were made to pay for those earlier missed chances as Rooney made amends at the other end by emphatically heading the hosts level.
Robin Van Persie put United ahead on the stroke of half-time, with his seventh goal in six games against the Potters, before Danny Welbeck got his name on the score-sheet just 90 seconds after the interval to seemingly put the outcome of the clash beyond doubt.
Stoke battled bravely though and pulled themselves back into the game courtesy of a sublime individual effort from Michael Kightly midway through the half, but it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s side who would have the last laugh with Rooney tapping home a second in slightly fortuitous fashion.
Prior to the game Pulis made one change to the side which earned a goalless draw at Liverpool before the international break and that was enforced by Whelan’s failure to recover from a hamstring injury sustained at Anfield two weeks ago.
There was an ominous sign for the Potters as United broke forward from the kick-off and Van Persie fed the ball out to Valencia. When his cross broke to Scholes on the edge of the box, his attempted volley lacked any control and flew wide.
It was perhaps not surprising that the home side were enjoying plenty of possession in the early exchanges but Van Persie was flagged offside as he attempted to latch onto Scholes’ chip forward and head past the advancing Begovic.
City then posed their first threat of the afternoon as Adam found space on the left to send over a menacing cross that forced De Gea to punch away under pressure.
There was more encouragement when Kightly, having charged the ball down amid cries of hand ball, made swift headway forward and eventually tried to pick out Crouch with his cross into the middle, but Evans read the situation to clear upfield.
Their promising spell was rewarded in the eleventh minute when they went in front after being awarded a free kick for a foul by Scholes.
Adam whipped over the kick with his left foot and Rooney, under pressure from Shawcross, headed past his own ‘keeper from five yards out.
Amazingly, the Potters could have gone two goals in front in their next attack when Adam, finding space once again on the left hand side, drilled in a low cross which almost caught out De Gea at his near post, the ‘keeper getting down to palm it away.
City continued to look the more threatening going forward and Nzonzi burst through the middle to find Walters in a wide position on the right. The Republic of Ireland striker measured his cross to the far post where’s Crouch header forced a save out of De Gea.
Chances then fell at either end as Walters was only inches from getting his head to a cross from Kightly, but then United responded with a swift counter attack in which Welbeck dragged a shot wide after a neat exchange with Van Persie.
It then took a brilliant save from De Gea to prevent the Potters from going two goals to the good as Walters cut inside from the right and found Crouch. His lay-off was dummied by Kightly to open the way for Walters to fire his shot goalbound.
The Potters were made to pay for not making the most of that opportunity when United struck with an equaliser that was very much against the run of play.
Van Persie drifted out wide on the left to send over an inch perfect cross that found Rooney nipping in between Shawcross and Huth to head home.
United’s front three then linked up to carve out another chance as Van Persie and Rooney fashioned an opening for Welbeck just inside the box, but fortunately for City, the young England striker blazed his shot high over the bar.
As the first half moved into its final stages, the home side were probing for an opening and it took a brave block by Shawcross to halt Scholes in his tracks before Welbeck produced a stunning drive out of nothing which clipped the bar.
The pressure paid off just before the break when Valencia, having been found by Rooney, drilled over a low cross which was glanced home by Van Persie as the Potters paid the price for leaving him unmarked on the edge of the six yard box.
No sooner had the second half got underway than United were looking comfortable with a two-goal cushion and threatening to run out emphatic winners.
Rooney turned provider on this occasion by whipping over a cross from the right hand side for Welbeck to glance his header past Begovic.
It could have got even worse for the Potters in United’s next attack as Rooney scooped over a cross from the left and Evans seemed odds on to score for the second successive game, but Begovic somehow kept out his close range header.
The goal so soon after the break seemed to have knocked the stuffing out of City and when Welbeck burst through the middle onto Valencia’s pass, a fourth goal seemed on the cards, but Shawcross and Cameron stood their ground to clear.
Having weathered the storm at the start of the second half, City were thrown a lifeline just short of the hour mark when Kightly embarked upon a determined run through the middle in which he managed to
retain possession as he worked his way into the box before sending a left foot shot beyond the reach of the diving De Gea.
But any hope of City getting something out of the game appeared to be snuffed out when United grabbed a fourth goal from a corner.
Van Persie swung over a cross from the right hand side which carried through to Shawcross whose misplaced clearance fell for Rooney at the far post and he side-footed the ball home from close range despite the best efforts of Begovic.
Both sides made a change as Etherington replaced Walters and Anderson came on for Scholes, promptly followed two more substitutions as Owen came on to face his former club in place of Kightly, while Nani was introduced.
It didn’t take long for Nani to make his presence as the ball broke to him in the box after good work by Welbeck on the left, but he was flagged offside as he attempted to beat Begovic at the near post with his shot from a tight angle.
Owen almost made an immediate impression of his own by intelligently losing his marker inside the penalty box and diverting an Adam centre goalwards, however, his Old Trafford replacement Van Persie was on hand to head his strike away from goal with De Gea undoubtedly looking beaten.
Stoke huffed and puffed for a third during the final few minutes, but United held on to record the victory and retain their spot in second place behind league leaders Chelsea.