Nani seals narrow Reds win



Manchester United moved three points clear of rivals Manchester City at the head of the Premier League after a narrow win over Stoke City on Tuesday night. Javier Hernández in the opening period and then Nani after the break scored for United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side laboured to a narrow victory over the Potters at Old Trafford.

Once again this was far from a vintage United performance, although the goals that won the tie were of the highest quality. Perhaps not as fortunate as the win over West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, where United claimed an unlikely victory, but rarely can Ferguson have possessed such as paucity of options in midfield.

Indeed, at times in the second period Stoke threatened what West Brom actually achieved at the weekend and bettered the United in the centre of the park.

This, as so often this season, was just about enough for Ferguson’s outfit, which now leads cross-town rivals Manchester City by three with a game in hand. City visits Arsenal tomorrow in what could prove a pivotal result for either side, with Chelsea now nine points behind United.

Despite the poor showing against the West Brom, Ferguson opted to rest key players for the Potters’ visit. Edwin van der Sar, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand sat out the tie, in front of a large number of empty seats at Old Trafford – not for the first time this season.

If Ferguson’s decision to rest key players was of little surprise given the visitors’ poor record in Manchester, then picking Darron Gibson ahead of Michael Carrick and Anderson in central midfield was more generous. The Irishman has seen little action of late – and has produced little with what he has – but Ferguson admitted he had one eye on Sunday’s FA Cup third round tie with Liverpool.

“It was a difficult kind of match,” admitted United boss Ferguson.

“Stoke are such a determined bunch of lads nad never give in but we produced some good moments and I was pleased with our own commitment, which was very good.

“We made some changes tonight to keep the squad motivated and also to give some players game time. January is going to be a big month for us. We’ve got Liverpool on Sunday and Tottenham the next week, and the rearranged game with Blackpool.”

Initially, the changes had little effect on United, with Ferguson’s side well on top in the opening exchanges, even if chances came at a premium. Indeed, with the Tony Pullis’ outfit packing midfield and hitting Kenwyne Jones with direct balls, the onus remained on United to control the match tempo.

Gibson, with long-range efforts first from the edge of the area and then even further out, went close for the hosts as Ferguson’s side dominated proceedings during the opening quarter.

Meanwhile, Stoke offered little going forward, with Jones isolated and few runners breaking ahead of the ball.

Yet, for all United’s dominance the home side could not turn pressure into clean strikes at goal during much of the opening half-hour in what threatened to become a frustrating match.

Then Nani, returning from a hip injury that kept the Portuguese winger out of the festive programme, created the opening goal, firing into the near post for Hernández to finish with the deftest of flicks. The goal was typical Hernández, born of the player’s pace over the first 10 yards and ability to improvise a finish with his heel.

But much against the run-of-play Stoke equalised just five minutes into the second half. Dean Whitehead took advantage of lax marking by United captain Nemanja Vidic to head home Sanli Tuncay’s excellent left-wing cross.

Whitehead almost gifted United an instant return, putting Dimitar Berbatov through with a loose backpass only for former Red Ryan Shawcross to recover superbly. His defensive partner Robert Huth then shut out Hernández with the Mexican close to another goal.

The goal brought life to the visitors’ play that had not previously been evident. Suddenly Etherington gave width, Rory Delap threatened more penetrative runs from midfield and Jones offered a genuine target.

Stoke’s hope lasted barely 10 minutes though before Nani demonstrated the increased value he offers to United in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era. Exchanging smart passes with Hernández, Nani cut inside from 20 yards and fired past Asmir Begovich high into the Stoke ‘keeper’s right-hand corner with half an hour to go

It was enough – just enough – to claim victory as United pressed for a third but failed to deliver.

“It was a great run from Chicho on the first one. I keep telling strikers to get across that front post and he’s excellent at it and of course Nani’s goal was sensational,” added Ferguson.

Indeed, the positives lie in the result and superb goals, rather than United’s performance, which rarely excelled. Yet, in this season of mediocrity from so many of the leading sides, United remains in pole position to take a 19th domestic title come May.

Match Facts
United – 442 – Kuszczak; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Gibson (Carrick 78), Fletcher, Giggs; Berbatov, Hernández (Owen 78).

Stoke – 451 – Begovic; Huth, Collins, Shawcross, Wilkinson; Tuncay, Wilson, Whitehead, Delap (Walters 69), Etherington (Pennant 68); Jones (Fuller 75).

Attendance – 73,401
Man of the Match – Nani

Possession: United 58% – 42% Stoke
Attempts: 18 – 5
On Target: 11 – 4
Corners: 6 – 1
Fouls: 6 – 11

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Comments

  1. eddieTheRed says:

    Hernandez is the man; a predator if ever I saw one; he’s got twice as many goals as Rooney this season even though he’s had a fraction of the playing time; bring back Tom Cleverley, go up a gear and it’s all over; happy New Year!

  2. Great read Ed.
    You gotta laugh at the empty seats! Plus no atmosphere.
    Brilliant its getting close.
    A few more inspid results and we will achieve what we want!
    No denying Sir Alex is holding the club together in the Premiership, but the big pot?

  3. To RedScot,

    Can you please show me another team in England that had over 73,000 spectators for their last home match?

    Btw, Fletcher was back to his dominant best.

  4. Fireman Sam with his red and white watering can says:

    Empty seats? but where are all these people you have claimed to be wanting to buy a season tocket or see the Worlds biggest club (according to United fans that is)

    You were about to lose your big star the White Pele and now it looks like you are losing your day trippers too/ Its all slowly going down the pan isnt it.

    • Fireman – name says it all, grow up. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with price rises at Old Trafford and the effect of the Glazer regime. Given the amount of fans driven away by the Glazers’ 50% price rises its a miracle more than 70,000 are turning up and testament to the depth of United’s support. Daytrippers aren’t the ones staying away, its the fans who couldn’t stand the Glazers any more or simply can’t afford to go.

  5. The result is all that matters…….and if the weakest United team in recent history happens to win the Premier League title for the 19th time so be it then.I won’t complain.

  6. At this stage of the season performance alos matters, not only results!! We were poor; our midfield just couldn’t cope although Fletcher was better than in previous months (not his ‘dominant best’ yet)! Gibson is pathetic-anyone who thinks this guys is UTD quality is sufffering from delusions!! When UTD let him go, he’ll end up in the Championship or below where he clearly belongs. He brings nothing to the game, goes missing for long periods, pretends to defend by ‘jumpimg’ in front of opponents when they seek to cross or pass…God let’s just drop it.
    Rooney must be really scared: Chicharito is what we hoped Rooney would be-a true goal poacher. The guy is an exceptional talent and clearly loves UTD (badge kissing each time he scores).Berbatov was good; he is really pulling his weight around this year. Nani has been sorely missed; people forget he’s been out a few weeks and thus his decision making suffered a bit but 1 goal out of nothing and 1 assist…you can forgive him the rest!!
    Im on holidays in the far east and stayed up until 4am to wahtch the match: was it worth it?? No…its just so painful watching us being outplayed by opponents midfield and scrape through matches we should be crusing…
    If we win the league it would be a fucking miracle..

  7. I agree with the comment above about Fletcher looking more his old self last night. I wrote a short piece on my new blog about it this morning.

    My other major gripe about last night was the continued use of Darron Gibson. If someone can explain what he offers then i will be interested to hear. From what I see, he has a decent shot and that is about it. There was a lot of negative comments on twitter last night about his performance when i checked half way through the 2nd half.

  8. I agree with the summary and assessment of the game however this statement I can’t agree with – “Dean Whitehead took advantage of lax marking by United captain Nemanja Vidic to head home Sanli Tuncay’s excellent left-wing cross.”

    I would say it was Chris Smalling who had been dragged over to the right-back position (possibly due to Rafael being out of position) leaving Vidic with two men to mark. Vidic had to choose between Kenwyne Jones and Dean Whitehead and it just so happened he went with the wrong man (I would have singled out Jones as the man to watch too).

    Could Evra have covered? possibly, but I wouldn’t blame Vidic’s lax defending at all.

  9. having seen it again, Fletcher was watching Jones and Vidic decided to leave Whitehead to Evra who was marking the right-winger. It was a poorly defended attack by all involved to be honest.

  10. uncleknobheadffs uncleknobheadforfucksake says:

    who hoped rooney would be a poacher

  11. Yes, a few negatives: not enough zip & accuracy in our passing & poor options in the final third; lack of ability is one thing but Gibson does not seem to be anywhere near fit enough, interested enough or commited enough & Giggs is only a fill-in midfielder.
    But more positives: Raphael, Smalling, Hernadez, Nani & Berba(generally) & Fletcher looked a lot sharper than for a long time. Give Stoke some credit they are better than the sum of their parts & Shawcross is getting better.

  12. Smalling was close to man of the match in this one, Nani, Rafael and Fletcher also played well. Stoke had one chance and scored.

    On the subject of Gibson, he really is on the hotseat with his contract ending summer 2012, he will either be offered a new one before this summer or be available for sale.

    Owen, Hargreaves, the Pig and Brown also on the edge. Pity with Brown really because he plays solidly when required, but he seems to have fallen with Fergie. His contract expires 2012 too.

  13. Unregistered User said:
    To RedScot,

    Can you please show me another team in England that had over 73,000 spectators for their last home match?

    Btw, Fletcher was back to his dominant best.

    There were never 73,000 there last night

    50-60 would be more realistic

    But, apparently, the Liverpool FA Cup match has sold out. If that’s true then that is genuinely impressive for a third round game

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