Manchester United saw their 100% record come to an end as they were left frustrated at Stoke.
“We’ll get to see Rooney today” was a popular remark circulating around the Britannia Stadium before yesterday’s late afternoon clash.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, United’s talisman striker didn’t grace us with his presence; Alex Ferguson sighting a slight hamstring strain for Rooney’s absence.
But, as they say in the theatre industry, the show must go on, and Ferguson fielded an entirely competent eleven. As Rooney departed, step forward Dimitar Berbatov. Not exactly a like-for-like swap, but class is in abundance throughout the United ranks.
Nani opened the scoring for United when some clever inter-changing passes between Darren Fletcher and the winger allowed him a clear aim at goal. The Portuguese finished well, driving the ball in past Asmir Begovic.
Record signing Peter Crouch levelled the score for the home side after 52 minutes. Crouch, a dominant figure in the air, rose above his defender and headed home emphatically from an excellent Matthew Etherington corner.
It was an enthralling contest, with the second half practically end-to-end.
Ryan Giggs will feel aggrieved at not securing all three points for United. In the late stages, Nani’s floated cross found Giggs unmarked, who proceeded to slice his shot into the stand. I, along with 25,000 other Stoke supporters in attendance, grimaced as the cross flew into Giggs’ path. He missed, and Stoke held on.
Stoke were worthy of their point, having acquitted themselves well against a team that had previously swept all before them.
United suffered a blow in the early goings, as Javier Hernandez was forced off after a collision with Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic. Hernandez was through on goal and, after a push from defender Jonathan Woodgate, crashed into Begovic. United should have had a penalty, but Ferguson said after the game: “It was too early to give a penalty, just too early.”
It’s never too early to give a penalty, but I see his point. A let-off for Stoke.
Stoke had several good chances, with under-fire United keeper David de Gea equal to them all. United’s £18m purchase from Atletico Madrid lived up to his price-tag on the day, producing some outstanding saves to thwart efforts from Jonathan Walters and Andy Wilkinson.
Crouch could have won it late on, chesting down an excellent delivery from Jermaine Pennant, but de Gea elbowed his close-range shot to safety.
Both sides had chances to clinch maximum points, but both will settle for just the one.