Manchester United manager David Moyes declared last night that an extraordinary late victory reminiscent of the Sir Alex Ferguson era could finally launch the club into a new era of success, despite a performance against Stoke City which at times was desperate.
Moyes said his side were now capable of going "quietly" on their way to a place among the elite as he pointed out that this was now five games undefeated – "though that's not big news for you boys" he told reporters. Yet a wretched first half left United, whose defence was pitiful, 2-1 down at the interval – a scoreline which held as the game headed towards the last 10 minutes, before Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez's headers inside two minutes made the result safe. Without several superb saves from David de Gea, United could have trailed 4-0 at the break.
"We did a lot of good things and a lot of really poor things which put us in the situation we were in," Moyes admitted. "Some of the things we did were good but were not leading to any goals. I told them [at half-time] we were capable of doing it.
He added: "We needed all the substitutes today to help us and they made a difference. We needed our goalkeeper."
United's first-half display, with Nani particular ineffective at times, led to boos from the Old Trafford crowd in the first half. "Obviously they were disappointed," said Moyes. "They wanted to see their team win. There have been a lot of games like this in the past."
Results elsewhere rendered the comeback even more vital. All the clubs above United in the table who played yesterday – Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton and Southampton – won their games. United remain eight points adrift of Arsène Wenger's table-topping side, who beat Crystal Palace, but defeat would have left them three points off the relegation zone and in a state of deep crisis.
The Stoke manager Mark Hughes said Moyes' team had been lucky and that his own players had left United "shook up". He was bitterly unhappy that the substitute Hernandez had been on the pitch to score the 80th- minute winner, and not sent off for a marginally high challenge when he charged down the visitors' defender Robert Huth.
"He [Hernandez] should not have been on the pitch anyway. It was a poor challenge on Huth; reckless. Why the assistant didn't see fit to do something about it I don't know."