Manchester United 3-2 Stoke City
Drama of the first order at Old Trafford. In spite of United’s Three Stooges-like slapstick defending from Smalling, Jones and their fearless Laird of the custard pie, Jonny Evans, United still battled and clawed their way to a 3-2 victory over Sparky Hughes’ thuggish pseudo-neo version of the same old Stoke City. The only thing lacking was a more suitable outfit for the referee, Lee Mason, who ought to have been wearing outsized yellow Docs and a big red nose. It was a particularly gormless outing from Mason, as he repeatedly ‘cautioned’ the same players with what amounted to a nod and a wink. Mason spent much of the match bantering, winking and laughing so much with the thuggish pairing of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross that I kept expecting him to ask one of the pair to pull his finger. Mason’s biggest victim was poor pitiful Tom Cleverlerly. Probably the most tackle-shy United player since the days of Iain Moir. El Clevs spent much of the match trembling and wincing, not just in the vicinity of Stoke’s back line, but whenever he came in the vicinity of N’Zonzi, Palacios or the ultra-intimidating shaven-headed Stephen Ireland. Indeed, my friend Edgar who was in the third row for the match, messaged me that Cleverley did manage to deposit some vomit on both Palacios and Ireland in separate incidents as the game went by.
Nevertheless, to all you United haters out there, it’s not over till the obese lady sings her aria! Rumors of the imminent demise of the red devils are very much hyperbolically exaggerated. We have won the Premier League without a defense more than once and it is still within the realm of fathomable plausibility that many of the other clubs are still flawed enough that we can do it again! Sure it was only Stoke City led by Sparky Hughes–the Typhoid Mary of our club alumni–but with Moyesie finally having the wherewithal to get his substitutions right (“It’s our attack, stchoopid!”), the quick-quick frontal juggernaut of Chicharito, Rooney and Van Persie proved simply too much for Stoke’s knackered thugs as the clock ticked down. All United have to do now is keep doing the same thing consistently and the rest will be like falling off a bicycle!
Last Wednesday Our Dear Lads were a goal up in two minutes. This time we were one down after three. It all began when Stoke’s left back Erik Pieters picked up the ball, eased casually past Smalling and Cleverley and crossed to the ungainly Crouch. Crouch botched his shot and De Gea made a nice reactive save, before trusting Evans with a pass. Forever positionally challenged, Jonny Evans’ ineptitude as he attempted a point-blank panic ‘pass’ back in the direction of his stunned goalie really did seem like a slapstick gag when it somehow bounced off the bamboozled Spaniard into the goalmouth, crossed the goal line, got kicked away by Evans, but then ended up back in goal after hitting an equally stunned Peter Crouch.
Minutes later, Nani completely overcooked a half-decent shooting chance from the edge of the box and began to be the subject of a torrent of verbal abuse from a section of United fans. The booing became even more vociferous after he made a dud pass outside his own box to Walters, who came close to setting up a Crouch volley that narrowly missed. Now with Nani clearly showing how genuinely upset he felt at being the butt of the cruel home crowd’s abuse, he almost caused another away goal as he gave away a sloppy ball to N’Zonzi, whose exquisite, precise diagonal ball was chested down by Crouch, before trickling away to Walters, whose hard effort was brilliantly saved by De Gea. Minutes later, De Gea pulled off one that had the whole stadium buzzing as he dived to his right to keep out a fifteen-yard thunderbolt from Marko Arnautovic.
Then a couple of real shockers. The second goal came three minutes before the interval as Van Persie scored his eighth goal of the season with a follow-up after Begovic had produced a one-handed save to keep out a Rooney header. But in only two minutes Stoke stole their lead back as Phil Jones fouled Arnautovic on the edge of the box. The Austrian then fired a free kick with the movement of metal-tipped whip. De Gea dived in time to reach the hard curving ball, but it was so accurately placed that it carried on off his fingertip into the top right corner of his net.
Just how desperately the team needs Adnan Januzaj showed the second he arrived on the hour mark of the match, simultaneously accompanied by boos for Nani as the Portuguese winger made a sad exit. With Antonio Valencia now slotting in nicely at right back, the Ecuadorian second wave began to make the Potters defense bend in too many directions at once. He won a corner for Van Persie and Wayne Rooney was able to leap high and nod a hard, glancing header which the up to then perfect Asmir Begovic misjusged and allowed in over his head. Two minutes later Patrice Evra, barely noticeable for much of the match, charged all the way down the left flank and served up a delicious cross for Chicharito Hernandez to also nod home.
It wasn’t pretty and United in no possible way looked like champions. They did, however, pull themselves together enough to show a definite sense of determination and desire. It turned out to be the 25th Premier League game in which Robin van Persie has scored. United have won 20 of those matches and drawn the other five. This seems to be be a lot more than an omen.