Stoke City 0 Manchester United 2 match report: Manchester United’s cruise to the Premier League title has Tony Pulis looking poorly - Premier League - Football - The Independent

Stoke City 0 Manchester United 2 match report: Manchester United’s cruise to the Premier League title has Tony Pulis looking poorly

Champions elect ease to victory

The glamour was at Wembley, the high emotion at St James' Park, but for Manchester United the lonely run to the title continues. They have been so far ahead for so long that it would have required an earthquake rather than mere defeat in last Monday's Manchester derby to unseat them.

United require seven points from their final half-dozen fixtures to secure a 20th league title; only the where and when of their coronation need to be confirmed and the likeliest date is at Arsenal on 28 April. If you believe Manchester City will lose their next two matches, it might be as early as Sunday evening.

It took precisely three minutes and 14 seconds for the faint question marks posed by their defeat by City at Old Trafford to dissolve away. By the end Robin van Persie, who found the net for the first time since February, was talking of breaking Chelsea's Premier League record of 95 points, achieved under Jose Mourinho in 2005. If United's remaining opponents put up the kind of feeble resistance Stoke mustered, that record has every chance of falling.

United already have more points (80) than when they won the title in 1997 and as many as when they retained it four years later. Here, Sir Alex Ferguson was relaxed enough to employ Wayne Rooney as a midfielder and wave to the bank of supporters to his right who were taunting Stoke with the chant of "Who the f***** hell are you?"

Once it was easy enough to know who Stoke City were. They were the club with a brand of football that was hard, physical and in its own way as distinctive as Barcelona's. The Britannia Stadium was among the most intimidating arenas in the country, where few apart from United had managed to chisel out points.

Although they performed better than they had against Aston Villa the weekend before, Stoke are an unrecognisable and fast-disintegrating club these days and one of the Sunday papers had predicted that had Manchester United "tonked" them here, Tony Pulis would be asked to resign as manager.

Stoke were not tonked but they were comfortably beaten even by the standards of a United side that has now won nine of its 10 matches at the Britannia Stadium. The Stoke chairman, Peter Coates, is made of steely stuff but the statistics piling up against Pulis are damning – one win in his last 14 games, one clean sheet in the last 15 and two goals in the last seven. Unless those figures can be turned around, Stoke are the clearest candidates for the third and final relegation place.

The anxiety on the faces of those who crowded round the televisions on the stadium concourses as they watched Sunderland's remarkable victory in the Tyne-Wear derby showed that they knew it.

The crowd were loud and raucous, far more aggressive than they had been the previous Saturday. On 14 minutes they broke into sustained applause for Kameron Bourne, a 14-year-old Stoke supporter who had died in his sleep during the week. There were isolated, distasteful cries of "Munich" directed at those from further up the M6 but at the final whistle there was no booing. There may have been no minute's silence for Margaret Thatcher but before kick-off Stoke employed a form of Churchillian rhetoric in the form of the Foo Fighters singing "The Pretender" (key lyric, "What if I say I will never surrender?") accompanied by footage of their players scoring the kind of goals that have not been seen at the Britannia this year.

Pulis's defenders were not for turning quickly enough in the box and within four minutes the white flags began fluttering over the Britannia. Nursing what he described as "a stinking cold", Pulis acknowledged that the goals Stoke conceded had been unforgivably lax.

The first, put away by Michael Carrick, was probably not even a shot. As Phil Jones's drive from Van Persie's corner was blocked, the midfielder seemed to direct a pass back into the six-yard box towards Javier Hernandez. It missed its target but ended up in the corner of Asmir Begovic's net.

Carrick would have been surprised to see Rooney playing alongside him and the experiment worked better than Fabio Capello's brief design of using David Beckham as a sweeper. The instincts to go for goal that have been with him since he was playing on the streets of Croxteth could not be entirely abandoned, but Rooney played well enough to win the man-of-the-match award.

"He was brilliant," said Ferguson. "I was thinking he possibly required a different role in terms of getting his confidence back. He has been under a bit of criticism – nothing serious, but there were some doubts nonetheless. I thought a spell in midfield might do him the world of good."

Van Persie had squandered one opportunity to break his goal drought when driving Hernandez's fabulous diagonal pass slap into the side-netting. Then midway through the second half Andy Wilkinson needlessly brought the Dutchman down.

He elected to take the penalty himself and so strong was the wind that he had to re-spot it twice before striking a goal that released a dam-burst of emotions.

Van Persie ran over to the United coach, Rene Meulensteen, who was standing in the technical area, before enveloping Ferguson in a bear hug. "He could have killed me, he forgets I am 71," his manager smiled.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Undergraduates will be able to study beatboxing and performance poetry at one of Europe’s leading conservatoires for the first time, after the Guildhall School of Music and Drama revealed plans for a “groundbreaking” degree course.

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week