If Wayne Rooney was to break the Manchester United goalscoring record, this was the way to do it. It was, first of all, a fabulous finish, a free-kick delivered from the left-hand edge of the box that curled into the top corner of Lee Grant’s net. It was also a typical Manchester United goal in that it arrived at the death and salvaged a match that appeared lost.
Goal number 250 arrived in front of the watching Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex Ferguson who had brought him to Old Trafford 12-and-a-half years ago. As he said afterwards “it meant a hell of a lot.”
"It means a hell of a lot. It is a great honour and I am very proud. It is difficult at the minute to be over-pleased because of the result but in the grand scheme it is huge honour. It is not something I expected when I joined. As I said before, I am proud and I hope there is more to come.”
In a way, Rooney has hauled himself over the line – his last league goal had come in August. But this was a reminder of a glorious talent.
It also brought a measure of justice to the day. This season Manchester United have dropped four points to Stoke in two matches they have dominated. To have lost, as seemed likely before Rooney took aim, would have been unusually cruel.
They have become prettier to watch, the names they have been able to attract have become bigger but Stoke away is still the great test. Weak teams do not win here. Ferguson’s sides used to but, since the great helmsman’s retirement, Manchester United had not picked up three points in the Potteries.
By dropping Michael Carrick, who had been given some rough treatment during the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, in favour of Marouane Fellaini, Jose Mourinho seemed to be suggesting that Manchester United required some toughening up.
Ten minutes after half-time, Mourinho withdrew him for Marcus Rashford. His side were behind and what United required was not toughness but goals. They had possession, they had chances but Manchester United did not get their equaliser until the death.
It was dark, dank and the air was threatening a frozen drizzle. It was Stoke as football cliché. When Marko Arnautovic was booked for a challenge on Ander Herrera, the stadium exploded with indignation. Nothing would be given away.
Aranautovic was the focus of much that was good about Stoke’s early moves and he was involved in the one that decided the pattern of the afternoon. The ball was played inside to Erik Pieters, who had pushed up from full-back. Pieters tried to pull the ball back across the face of David De Gea’s goal, two Manchester United boots belonging to Chris Smalling and Juan Mata went to intercept it and Mata’s turned it into his own net.
This was not a day he would have wanted to linger long over. Midway through the first half, Paul Pogba clipped a ball on the run for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is probably the Premier League’s most dangerous and in-form striker. This time he chose not to shoot but to clip a pass across the area for Mata to run on to. However, under pressure from Bruno Martins Indi, the Spaniard scooped the ball into the stands. Had not played badly just unluckily and in the 67th minute Mata made way for Rooney.
Manchester United were now gradually ratcheting up the pressure and the clock on Stoke’s electronic stadium would to three-quarters of the ground be appear to be moving very slowly. Fellaini’s one positive contribution was a wild drive into the ground that Lee Grant tipped into the Boothen End. The referee, Mark Clattenburg, fussed over where Daley Blind should take it from but when the ball did arrive Pogba met it on the full and, had the volley gone anywhere other than straight at Grant, Manchester United would have equalised.
In both their games against Stoke, they have suffered from an absence of ruthlessness in front of goal. In the second half a cross from Rooney was chested down from Rashford – and you half expected to follow the ball into the net. It flashed wide. Five minutes from the end, Jesse Lingard clipped the top of the crossbar.
Before the interval, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was picked out somewhere near the penalty spot and delivered what looked like an attempted drop goal. In recognition, the Stoke fans began a chorus of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.
Stoke City: (4-2-3-1) Grant; Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Whelan, Adam (Affelay 62); Shaqiri (Ngoy 74), Allen, Arnautovic (Imbula 88); Crouch. Substitutes: Given (g), Bardsley, Muniesa, Bojan.
Manchester United: (4-3-3) De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind; Fellaini (Rashford 56) Pogba, Herrera; Mata (Rooney 67), Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan (Lingard 73). Substitutes: Romero (g), Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Darmian.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies