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.”
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.
Manchester United vs Stoke player ratings
Manchester United vs Stoke player ratings
1/22 David de Gea
Didn't have much to do but fluffed his lines when called upon and let Stoke equalise. 5
2/22 Antonio Valencia
Not overly busy and managed to keep his shirt rigorously tucked in all game. 6
3/22 Eric Bailly
A solid game, continues to impress. 6
4/22 Chris Smalling
Not much to do but reliable enough. 6
5/22 Daley Blind
Give us this day our Daley Blind. The versatile Dutchman was reliable as ever. 6
6/22 Ander Herrera
Should he have been sent off? Let Robbie Savage debate that. As it was he had a decent game. 6
7/22 Paul Pogba
What does £100m get you these days? A decent if largely uninspiring game against Stoke, that’s what. 6 Jesse Lingard: An encouraging performance before being subbed in the second half. 6
8/22 Jesse Lingard
An encouraging performance before being subbed in the second half. 6
9/22 Juan Mata
Subbed for Rooney in the second half, but solid enough before that. 6
10/22 Marcus Rashford
Oh he’s quite good isn't he? Always lively but couldn't get on the scoresheet. 6
11/22 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Denied on multiple occasions, a frustrating afternoon, particularly for anyone who made him their Fantasy Football captain. 6
12/22 Lee Grant
He might have a name straight out of a 90s boyband but he had a stormer in goal. 8
13/22 Glen Johnson
Lively going forward, occasionally suspect in defence - I feel like we know this about Glen Johnson by now. 6
14/22 Ryan Shawcross
Largely kept United at bay, solid enough. 6
15/22 Bruno Martins Indi
Continues to look a good signing for Stoke. 6
16/22 Erik Pieters
Reliable if a little uninspiring. 6
17/22 Geoff Cameron
Unlucky that his great tackle provided the assist for United’s goal. 6
18/22 Glenn Whelan
Played to the best of his abilities but wasn't exactly superlative. 6
19/22 Xherdan Shaqiri
The Alpine Messi? Not on the basis of this. Could do better. 6
20/22 Joe Allen
Smashed it in from a yard out to equalise, got fouled a lot. Solid game. 7
21/22 Marko Arnautovic
Sulked quite a lot and got subbed in the second half. Not his best game. 6
22/22 Wilfried Bony
Where is the striker who terrified defences at Swansea? Not here today. 6
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.Reuse content