Stoke vs Man Utd Match Report (Stoke roll over as the drought ends for Van Persie)By: Ian | April 15th, 2013
After two straight defeats, with performances that were as tepid as a cup of tea in the fridge, Utd ran out at home against Stoke yesterday looking to get back on track for title number 20. On paper, it looked positively easy. Stoke have scored fewer goals than anyone else in the league, and have a remarkable success record of two wins in the last 17. Three of their top five goalscorers have scored just three goals each. 2nd place has five. Top has eight. Essentially, they can’t buy a goal. The tough, make-it-awkward approach that Stoke have employed in previous seasons has fallen away to a team that lets in goals and doesn’t score them. Surely Utd wouldn’t make hard work of this?
The selected side made it all the more likely Stoke would find things difficult. Hernandez and Van Persie to provide services up front, with Rooney also selected but in the midfield, joined by Jones, Carrick and Kagawa. The defence, selected more to make up the 11 than because it was needed, consisted of Valencia, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra, with De Gea all set for a quiet afternoon in his goal-line armchair. Action ensued almost immediately with a Van Persie corner whipped in and a scramble whipped up. Jones tried the spectacular, succeeding only in falling spectacularly, but the ball found Carrick who, perhaps intending to find Chicharito, poked it goalwards through the one gap, only to see it slink inside the post. 1-0, with 86 minutes remaining, leaving Stoke very little time for an equaliser. (I am being mean towards Stoke, I know, but they really are a calamitous shambles who deserve to go down).
The wind was making things difficult and probably contributed to what looked like poor set-piece deliveries and long passing thereafter. Where corners were going was more guesswork than skill, as the ball kept rolling away from the corner flag before being sent anywhere. This made control in general difficult, but Stoke’s distaste for possession was quite astounding. Many passes were strung together across the park before Rooney unleashed a piledriver from distance that was palmed away by Begovic. Finally, Stoke managed something of note as Adam’s delivery found the head of Huth. Off target, with De Gea sparing the attempt a glance, but better.
To say Utd looked comfortable is like saying Warren Buffett looks well-off. Van Persie even tried an audacious 40-yard lofted attempt after Stoke lost the ball. The distance was ok, helped by the wind, but accuracy was askew. He followed this up with a quickly-taken effort that surprised the keeper and resulted in a corner. Delivery wasn’t great and on we went. A breakaway move saw a bit of controversy as Hernandez was brought down off the ball by Shawcross, walking the disciplinary tightrope with his yellow card count, leaving Kagawa alone to draw another free kick. Nothing given but the set-piece, which Rooney curved wide.
The general pattern continued into the second half with Stoke’s half time team talk seemingly made up of a sports drink and a message of: “There’s always next match.” A good move from Utd saw Rooney feed Hernandez from distance, who did well to hold up play, before slotting a great ball through to Van Persie. Although on his preferred left, the Dutchman found the top-left of the netting rather than the goal to extend his wait for a goal. For all their play and time-on-ball, Utd weren’t testing Begovic as much as they should have been and 1-0, even against Stoke, was a little worrying. Half-chances for the opposition fell to Walters, who volleyed over, and Adam, who at least seemed to be trying something a little bit different to his teammates.
The next passage saw game over for the Potters as Voldemort struck (popular culture joke) in the form of Andy Wilkinson’s trailing leg in the box. Down fell Van Persie, who perhaps didn’t have to go down, but emphasised the move enough for the whistle to go. Few complaints from Stoke though as Van Persie tried to overcome the first challenge of getting the ball to stay still on the spot. With effectively a ditch being kicked out, I feared the ball deflected away if any kind of power was applied, but RVP stayed calm and drilled low to the right. He looked happy to break his drought and nearly ran over Sir Alex in celebration, as the picture shows.
With no chance of points, Stoke finally began playing a little calmer and even fashioned opportunities, with Shotton taking the shot on (I had to do that) to wake De Gea from his peaceful slumber. A tumble from Vidic brought Jones down in the box, but it looked a bit silly and Utd retained the statistic of being the only team not to concede a penalty in the league this season. It was surprising Stoke left changes until very late, but on came Owen, Crouch and Jerome, with Welbeck replacing Hernandez, who was unable to do much with little service.
Adam managed to get De Gea to stretch from his chair to stop a drifting free kick from going in unaided, but the general tone was demonstrated by Shotton’s late miskick. So it ended, with Stoke fans most disappointed in their team’s showing. I was too, and say what you will about them, the teams beneath them, QPR, Reading and Wigan have played much better football than Stoke of late. The latter’s freefall may be irreversible given the tameness of their attacking options, and should they be relegated, I will not be surprised. Anyway, their presence and performance allowed Utd to pick up three important points from a 2-0 simple victory, leaving a total of seven remaining to clinch the title. Three more can be obtained against West Ham on Wednesday who should provide a much tougher test. Just six games to go in this 2012-2013 season (with Utd still on record number of wins for any team at this stage of the season).
A final point, we should, barring any mishaps, have two new writers joining the team (myself) here at the Offside. Surprisingly, we had more interest than I thought, but as I said, priority would be given to those who had been active on this blog during its revival. Nevertheless, a thank you to everyone who expressed interest, and hopefully we shall see some new writers up and posting soon.