Friday 20 April 2018

Crouch opens account to end United's winning start

Stoke City 1 Man United 1

Stoke City's Peter Crouch heads home the equaliser during the Barclays Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium
Stoke City's Peter Crouch heads home the equaliser during the Barclays Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium

Manchester United's 100 per cent record came to an end at a ground where they have always found it hard but never previously dropped any Premier League points, Peter Crouch's arrival proving the added ingredient Stoke have been missing with a valuable first goal since moving from Spurs.

Alex Ferguson is of the opinion that setting a new record for the best start to a season is of little importance in any case, as long as his side finish on top of the pile when the league campaign comes to an end.

United had to make a couple of last-minute adjustments before the game and a third almost immediately after kick-off. Wayne Rooney's absence through a hamstring strain will not have been a complete surprise to anyone following his wife's tweets the previous evening, and Michael Owen will not have been that surprised either to find Dimitar Berbatov asked to deputise.

The visitors also lost Jonny Evans to an injury sustained warming-up, and Antonio Valencia once again found himself pressed into service at right back, where he appeared in the Carling Cup game at Leeds in midweek.

Four minutes into the game Javier Hernandez required treatment after going down in the area to a tackle from behind by Jonathan Woodgate, and though Peter Walton was probably right in deciding that the defender had played the ball and the challenge was fair, the Mexican was unable to continue and after playing with nine men for a few minutes United eventually sent Owen on.

United's defence as a whole had a let-off when a Matthew Etherington corner found Crouch at the far post and the striker missed the target with a free header from close range.

Stoke were left regretting that miss when Nani put the visitors ahead with an elegant opening goal just before the half hour, playing a one-two with Darren Fletcher to wrongfoot Woodgate and slip a low shot past Asmir Begovic.

Stoke almost equalised immediately, De Gea's fingertips just pushing Andy Wilkinson's venomous drive on to the angle of post and bar, and had a let-off themselves when Nani wafted his effort high over the bar after Begovic's mistake had invited a shot at an empty net.

De Gea made another fingertip save to deny Jon Walters as Stoke continued to press for an equaliser. Owen put a half chance wide from Young's cross at the start of the second half before Crouch turned up the volume several more notches with his first goal for his new club, getting between Jones and Rio Ferdinand to score with a straightforward header from Etherington's corner. Two minutes later Crouch had the chance to score his second from six yards, but he missed it.

As the game went into its final half hour, United were being penned back and Pennant in particular was finding plenty of space into which to run, although Ryan Shawcross was fortunate to get away with what looked like a handball in the area when he half turned his back to block a shot.

Ferguson sent on Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck for the last 20 minutes and the former squandered a great chance late on to win it as the points were shared.


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