Red Devils on spot to keep title tilt ticking over nicely
Manchester United 2
a PENALTY apiece from Javier Hernandez and the much-maligned Dimitar Berbatov gave injury-ravaged Manchester United a priceless win against against Stoke at Old Trafford last night.
The Red Devils went into the game without 11 senior players, including both first-choice 'keepers, meaning 21-year-old Ben Amos was handed his Premier League debut.
And though it was a struggle for long periods, United eventually got their noses in front when Hernandez took advantage from the spot after Jermaine Pennant had chopped down Park Ji-sung nine minutes before the break.
Barbatov doubled the lead on 52 minutes after irish international Jonathan Walters had taken down Antonio Valencia in the box.
Amos was handed his Premier League debut by as both Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea were ruled out.
It has been reported that Lindegaard suffered an ankle injury in training yesterday, while De Gea was forced to return home after complaining of feeling ill.
Amos spent the second half of last season on loan at League One Oldham and has made six senior appearances for United, all but one of which have come in the League Cup.
But, with the only alternative being Tomasz Kuszczak, who has fallen completely out of favour, Amos was entrusted with the goalkeeping responbilities in a side that was still without Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones. Berbatov and Hernandez were paired together up front.
Stoke, looking for their first away win over United since 1976, made five changes following the defeat by West Brom on their last league outing, with Kenwyne Jones recalled to add even more height to their attack.
Amos' first touch was a routine back pass as United made the initial running.
Park Ji-sung tried to float a cross to the far post but it sailed out of play before Antonio Valencia could reach it.
Amos had to watch closely to ensure Jon Walters' long-range effort bounced wide before Michael Carrick had a shot charged down at the other end.
It was turning into an open contest and after Chris Smalling had gifted possession to Kenwyne Jones, the Stoke forward got himself to the edge of the United box where he trashed Rio Ferdinand's half-clearance wide.
Amos safely collected a Peter Crouch header, although the whistle had gone against the former England man anyway, for climbing over Rio Ferdinand.
In-form Valencia was again looking like United's most likely method of breaking through Stoke's formidable defences.
It was Jonny Evans who tried to send Hernandez through, the Mexican falling foul of a marginal offside decision.
Carrick had a long-range effort deflected wide by Wilson Palacios, then a far more dangerous strike from Paul Scholes fizzed inches wide off Crouch with Thomas Sorensen stranded.
Marc Wilson got to Park's low cross just before Hernandez, then Robert Huth stepped in to clear just as Berbatov was about to take aim.
Patrice Evra went down in the box but referee Mike Jones was unimpressed.
United's stand-in skipper then curled a low cross into the side-netting when he was trying to pick out Hernandez.
Valencia strode on to a superb reverse pass from Berbatov but Sorensen was able to push the cross away.
Stoke's attacks were becoming increasingly rare and Jones did not help much when they did press forward, screwing a 20-yard shot badly wide.
United's most fluent passing move was started and ended by Carrick, who laid a pass off to Park before continuing his run to end up on the end of Berbatov's neat lay-off but his effort rolled narrowly wide of the far post.
United finally broke through when Berbatov and Scholes combined to release Park inside the area.
The Stoke players were convinced Jermaine Pennant took the ball as he lunged in to make the tackle.
However, TV replays showed Jones got the call spot-on when he awarded a spot-kick and Hernandez sent Sorensen the wrong way.
The hosts thought they should have had another penalty when Huth handled Hernandez's cross but play was waved on and Scholes was booked for chopping down Kenwyne Jones.
It was a quiet start to the second half, with Amos forced into the action briefly, to slide out and gather a mishit shot from Andy Wilkinson, who had been booked in the first half for his protests at the penalty award.
Huth booted a Valencia cross away from danger at the other end, then Berbatov failed to take advantage of some brave tackling from Smalling inside the Stoke box.
It was not long before the Bulgarian had the chance to make amends though as Walters hauled Valencia back inside the visitors' box.
There were not as many protests this time as Walters was shown the yellow card.
Despite Hernandez's previous effort, this time Berbatov assumed the responsibility and beat Sorensen with a shot to the bottom corner as the keeper went the right way.
Berbatov did impede Hernandez a minute later as the Mexican tried to profit from more good work by Valencia.
Cameron Jerome replaced Crouch not long afterwards as Tony Pulis tried to inject some life into his team.
It was almost an hour before Stoke won their first corner, which ended in disappointing fashion as Wilson crashed his shot into a crowd of defenders.
Stoke kept coming forward though and Amos needed two attempts to collect Jerome's downward header from Pennant's cross.
The rookie 'keeper kept a clean sheet on his top-flight debut however.
Easy pickings for Fergie's men at Old Trafford.