Manchester United vs Stoke City match report: Joe Allen strikes late to cancel out Anthony Martial opener

Manchester United 1 Stoke City 1: Record signing Paul Pogba had enough chances to put the game to bed on his own

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The Independent Football

Had it connected with something other than thin air, Mark Hughes’s punch would have knocked most human beings senseless. You could understand the vehemence behind his fists as he celebrated Joe Allen’s equaliser.

Since 1980, Stoke had not taken so much as a point at Old Trafford and for much of the game it seemed this would be another barren afternoon in south Manchester. Then, David De Gea fumbled a straightforward shot from Glen Johnson, which Jon Walters seized upon. A combination of De Gea and the bodies of his two defenders, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia, blocked the shot and sent it on to the crossbar. Peter Crouch was lurking but it fell to Allen who lashed it into the net beneath the Stretford End. Eight minutes later, Stoke had their point and were off the bottom of the Premier League.

This appeared another stumble for the Manchester United of Jose Mourinho and yet their manager described it as “the performance of the season”. In his analysis this should not just have been three points but “a fat result”.  His man of the match had been Stoke’s 33-year-old on-loan goalkeeper, Lee Grant, and, Mourinho added with a caustic aside, “the post”. Manchester United did in fact only strike the frame of Grant’s goal once, when the ball cannoned off Paul Pogba’s shoulder and on to the crossbar.

Stoke have begun as badly as they did last season, when they only recorded their first win in game seven. However, the injury to Jack Butland has deprived them of a high-class keeper which led to Hughes asking Derby to loan them Grant. His career began 16 years ago but this was his first appearance at Old Trafford.

The stadium clock was still registering 12:01 when the two biggest blocks in Mourinho’s rebuilding of Manchester United – Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba - combined. The Frenchman’s pass sent Ibrahimovic through and the Stretford End anticipated the most inevitable of goals. Instead Grant saved low to his right.

Then it was Pogba’s turn to miss, throwing his hands to his head as a chance, almost on the penalty spot provided by Ibrahimovic’s back-heel and Jesse Lingard’s pass, was squandered. He would have expected the “what a waste of money” chants but not the song from those who had travelled up from the Potteries: “Ricardo Fuller, he would have scored that.”

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Pogba cut a frustrated figure throughout (Getty)

The corner count was 13-2 and Manchester United made twice as many passes as Stoke but the breakthrough came only after a double substitution. The substitute scored with his first shot, which was a nice story but since the scorer was Anthony Martial rather than Wayne Rooney, it was not a great story.  

Had the England captain been in any sort of form, he might have provided the assist but he lingered too long on the ball and allowed Geoff Cameron to take it off him. However, Cameron only managed to pass straight to Martial, a man who is rather unluckier to have started on the bench than Rooney. The finish was brilliant.

Rooney was on the pitch for 24 minutes and much of it was dreadful, although Wilfried Bony ensured he was not the worst player of the afternoon. Stoke have been angered by suggestions that his team-mates do not rate him but Bony's touch was poor and his work-rate was lethargic. Ibrahimovic, who celebrates his 35th birthday on Monday, is eight years older and far quicker.

Nevertheless, Pogba’s habit of pushing high up the pitch meant Ander Herrera was United’s only holding midfielder. Had the Spaniard been dismissed for a high, studs-up challenge on Allen, there would have been nobody screening the Manchester United back four.  “Sometimes, they get sent off and sometimes they don’t,” was Allen’s diplomatic response when asked if Herrera should have been shown red.  

It meant Stoke always carried a threat on the counter-attack and when Allen picked up the ball at pace from Marko Arnautovic he turned Chris Smalling to create a window of space that produced a shot unworthy of the move. It was Stoke’s best chance of the match and, as he ran back up the pitch, Allen told himself there would probably not be another. He was wrong.

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