It was a night when bad weather briefly stopped play but a night, moreover, when Manchester United’s season may just have gained some precious momentum.
On a night when a freakish hailstorm led to the teams briefly departing the field in the first half, United came alive in the second as they won through to their 13th Capital One Cup semi-final thanks to goals from Ashley Young and Patrice Evra.
The consequence is that David Moyes now finds himself just one step from his first final as United manager, in a competition where he was a losing semi-finalist with Everton in 2008. The Capital One Cup may not rank high on the list of priorities at Old Trafford but victory in this competition in the 2006 was the springboard for Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to go on and land the big prizes with United and a winnable semi-final against Sunderland means Moyes could go into the spring boosted by his first silverware.
It was not pretty, understandably given the conditions, but it was a victory embellished by two spectacular strikes. The first by Young after 62 minutes was the winger’s first in a United shirt in 19 months and offered a reminder of the talent that has earned him 30 England caps.
Young, starting in place Adnan Januzaj, picked up a short free-kick from Tom Cleverley just inside Stoke’s half and headed to goal. He fed a pass to Javier Hernandez and when the ball came back to him off the Mexican struck a ferocious 25-yard shot which simply had too much power for Thomas Sørensen as it flew past him. The frenzied celebrations with the United fans behind the goal that followed showed just what it meant to him after a difficult period in his career.
“The goals were really good,” said Moyes. “Ashley Young took his goal really well. He has got the ability to score, we see it in training. He needed the goal for himself.” After a bizarre early incident when he went down under a nudge from Geoff Cameron and then ended up wrestling with Jonathan Walters, Young let his football talk for him. “Tonight he got kicked a few times and went down and got back up and got on with it,” added Moyes. “He has showed he can come in and make an impact.” Evra’s 78th-minute coup de grace was almost as good as Young’s, the left-back collecting a pass from the winger and curling a superb right-foot shot into the far corner.
Stoke had not beaten United in any competition since 1993 but they had lost only once at home this season before last night and the usual difficulty of a trip to the Britannia was enhanced by the weather.
Indeed the first half was all about the weather. Never mind the popular question about Lionel Messi’s ability to do it on a cold night in Stoke – in the 29th minute, as the driving rain turned to hailstones, whipped around wildly by the wind, referee Mark Clattenburg decided that not even Stoke could manage it and called both sides off. Both managers defended the unusual course of action. “At the time the referee probably make the right decision, he claimed couldn’t see through the hailstones,” said Moyes. Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, added: “You have to accept he couldn’t see anything to make a decision.”
At that point, United had forced the only save of note with Anderson’s low shot held by Sørensen. For Anderson, anchoring the midfield alongside Phil Jones, it was the first start since September. Danny Welbeck was another player with something to prove after Moyes’s words that he needed to emulate Wayne Rooney’s appetite for hard work in training. He set up Young for an early shot into the side-netting but his display overall will leave Moyes hoping Rooney, absent with a groin strain, will be back for Saturday’s home fixture against West Ham. “He’s got a chance,” said Moyes.
Moyes sent on a second striker in the 57th minute as Hernandez replaced Anderson and after Welbeck had looped a header over from a Young corner, the breakthrough came with Young’s strike.
Walters should have had an equaliser, failing to make contact with Eric Pieters’s cross into the six-yard box but that was as good as it got for the home side as Ryan Shawcross limped off with a groin injury, and Evra struck the second.
Moyes would not say it but the presence of Sunderland in the semi-finals was a final piece of good news, meaning United avoided neighbours Manchester City. As for the possibility of an all-Manchester final, the Scot played a straight bat. “I’d like to see Manchester United in the final,” he said as a stormy night ended with a welcome shaft of light.
Man of match Young.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham).