Rooney return to form fails to mask United's defensive woes
Manchester Utd 4 Stoke City 2
Wayne Rooney's first club goals of the season, the development of his pairing with Robin van Persie and yet more defensive shortcomings were all but footnotes to the high-profile decision of Rio Ferdinand not to wear an anti-racism T-shirt in the pre-game warm-up.
Yet if, as seems highly possible, this win marks the beginning of the end of the 33-year-old's 10-year spell at Old Trafford, it will be for matters on the field as much as for those off them.
Ferdinand's form, fitness and durability have been on the wane for some time, trends reflected in the fact that United have fallen behind in six of their eight league games this season.
With Ferdinand out of contract this summer, and currently on the receiving end of Ferguson's wrath, it is tempting to conclude that his actions on Saturday will deny him the opportunity to extend his United career beyond May.
Regardless of his relationship with his manager, who had already expressed his dissatisfaction at the player this season following his £45,000 English FA fine for Twitter comments directed at Ashley Cole in the wake of the John Terry racism affair, Ferdinand's stay at United already appeared to be on the clock.
Ferguson did not refer to "disciplining" Ferdinand but muttered that his player would be "dealt with".
Such a threat covers a multitude of possibilities although, as the PFA pointed out yesterday, a fine could lack any sort of credibility.
Ferdinand may just escape with a blast from the famous Ferguson "hair dryer", given the injury problems that still blight United in central defence.
"It's a free country but the manager did say in his press conference that all his players would be wearing the T-shirt," said former United defender Viv Anderson, an early anti-racism activist and first black player to represent England. "Rio chose not to do that and he'll have to live with that and move on."
At fault in United's 3-2 defeat by Spurs, Ferdinand hardly covered himself in glory against Stoke, particularly for their second goal when Michael Kightly ran straight at and through the veteran.
In truth, United's season is being dominated more by their forwards rather than defenders.
After Rooney's own goal, he scored United's first and fourth, while assisting Danny Welbeck for the third. Van Persie, meanwhile, continued his positive start to his Old Trafford career with a typically deft finish for the second. (© Daily Telegraph, London)