STOKE CITY signed off their home schedule for the calendar year in scintillating style on Saturday afternoon courtesy of a 2-0 triumph over Manchester United.
The Potters had already claimed the scalps of Chelsea and Manchester City in the Barclays Premier League this term and added the Red Devils to that list in front of the live television cameras on a memorable Boxing Day.
Mark Hughes’ side displayed style and substance to further enhance their ever growing reputation whilst Louis van Gaal’s worries worsened as his troops failed to respond to recent back-to-back defeats against newly-promoted Bournemouth and Norwich City.
To the Dutchman’s dismay they were the architects of their own downfall as some kamikaze defending gifted Bojan the opening goal of the afternoon 20 minutes in.
There was nothing the United rearguard could do to deny Marko Arnautovic his sixth of the campaign six minutes later though as the Austrian planted a thunderbolt into the corner of the net from 25-yards.
The surprising absence of Wayne Rooney from the visitors eleven wasn’t greatly received by the travelling faithful – who routinely chanted their star frontman’s name before a ball had even been kicked.
The second half introduction of the England skipper ignited something of a response but in truth it was the home side who could have added to their tally with the mesmeric Bojan and maverick Arnautovic both going close.
Right from the offset you could sense the determination within the Potters camp to chalk up a fourth home league triumph of the term and re-stamp their authority on proceedings at the Britannia Stadium on the back of an undeserved loss to Crystal Palace seven days earlier.
Hughes’ players were fired up, and United’s weren’t. That was the difference, and it was incredibly evident as the home side pressed the visitors back with slick interchange and an undoubted willingness to leave no stone unturned in their bid to claim the three points on offer.
Arnautovic and the consistently impressive Ibrahim Afellay had already seen chances to begging prior to the deadlock being broken midway through the half, whilst the one only real half United effort of note fell to Memphis Depay.
It was he, the club’s big name summer arrival, whose error cost his side so dearly midway through the first period as he attempted an audacious acrobatic headed back pass to David de Gea, Glen Johnson capitalised and squared to Bojan, who made no mistake from 8-yards.
Agony turned to despair just six minutes later when Arnautovic exquisitely doubled his side’s advantage with a rasping drive from well outside the penalty area, after the United wall had blocked an initial attempt from a set-piece.
Stoke were rampant, and should have gone into the break three goals to the good as Arnautovic sprung the offside trap, latched onto Bojan’s sensational through ball but then failed to hit the target with just de Gea left to beat.
The Austrian cut a frustrated figure in the immediate aftermath of his miss, but displayed the other side of his game just seconds later - tracking back the full length of the pitch to help Erik Pieters snuff out an Ashley Young surge forward.
His, and the rest of the Potters’ efforts, were acknowledged by the joyous home faithful at the break, who were being presented with the perfect post-Christmas gift from their first-team heroes.
Glenn Whelan, another pivotal player during the first-half, was replaced at the break by Marco van Ginkel, seemingly through injury, whilst van Gaal took one last throw of the dice by introducing skipper Rooney into the action.
His determination and desire lifted the previously lacklustre visitors and but for the brilliance of Jack Butland and some astute defending from Ryan Shawcross, Philipp Wollscheid and co, they could have been back in the encounter.
Anthony Martial forced Butland into a good save down to his left from distance, whilst Marouane Fellaini held his head in disbelief as Butland produced an incredible one-handed save to deny the midfielder from point-blank range.
Young was far more of a threat in a more advanced role, but for all of his trickery and pace, on more occasions than not, his final ball let him and his teammates down.
At the other end Arnautovic utilised his pace and strength to burst into a dangerous position, only this time to stumble over the ball and watch on frustratingly, and with a wry smile, as the thankful Phil Jones jogged away in possession of the ball.
Bojan let rip an effort from an acute angle that forced de Gea into a decent save down to his right, before his opposite number, Butland, was forced into action once more to deal with Young’s powerful effort from 15-yards.
Hughes replaced the tireless Geoff Cameron with Charlie Adam and the at times, sensational, Xherdan Shaqiri with Mame Diouf as he looked to add freshness to his tiring team during the latter stages of the encounter.
Both players could have made telling contributions to the outcome of the match with Adam attempting a speculative effort from distance that dropped narrowly over, whilst Diouf was just inches away from connecting with Afellay’s dangerous ball into the mix.
United threw everything they could at the home side during the final stages to try and salvage some consolation, but yet again they found Butland in inspired form as he produced another tremendous save to block a seemingly goal-bound effort following good work from Rooney.
The final whistle brought with it scenes of jubilation around the stadium as the majority of the packed out attendance celebrated another home victory against another of the biggest club’s in European football.