Wayne Rooney helped United to a 3-2 victory over Stoke City in the Premier League
David Moyes’ euphoric fist clenched celebration said it all. In a week that has been dominated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, Beckham’s beanie hat and Roy Keane’s acid tongue – this current Manchester United crop took a leaf out of Ferguson’s sides with a late win and two great headers from Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. Peter Crouch gave the visitors a fortunate lead, after Jonny Evan’s clearance hit the striker and bounced in following a great save from David De Gea. Robin van Persie equalised before a stunning freekick by Arnautovic, his first goal for the club.
It was left until twelves minutes from time for United to take the lead. The Mexican headed home a great cross from Patrice Evra, but former United forward and current Stoke City boss Mark Hughes believed United’s number 14 shouldn’t even have been on the pitch. Here we discuss the talking points and welcome comments from both sets of fans.
De Gea saves United as Stoke squander chances
David De Gea was in fine form on Saturday afternoon, stopping Stoke City from extending their lead early in the first half. The young Spaniard, who is arguably the best goalkeeper in the league at present, made a superb stop from Peter Crouch just before the first Stoke goal and made an even better stop to deny Walters who had escaped Evans before unleashing a left footed strike, which was pounded away by United’s number one.
In truth, Stoke City were dominant on United’s right hand side, with Erik Pieters easily coasting through three United players after a limp challenge from Tom Cleverley, who was somewhat off the pace all day, before setting up Crouch for the goal. Ten minutes later, it was Arnautovic next to swing in a left footed cross, which was smashed over the bar following a neat knock down from Walters.
Arnautovic was at in again just on the stroke of half time when he put Stoke back in front with an excellent freekick that had the United’s goalkeeper well beaten. It was a superb bending right footed strike that hit the bar after De Gea got a hand to it. Some might say the keeper could have done better, considering the saves he is well capable of making (think about the Juan Mata stop in the 3-3 draw against Chelsea in his debut season), but the quality of the set piece should not be understated. Despite a second half that was more cautious, Mark Hughes will be disappointed that his side hadn’t gone into the break with a two goal lead.
Nani booed off following poor display
Maybe it’s due to being so successful in recent years but it’s hard to remember audible boos bar the odd, rare exception at Old Trafford. So when Nani was subbed off around the hour mark and replaced by Januzaj, it was a strange sensation to hear very audible boos amongst the enthusiastic applause for the change (rather than Nani’s performance). It’s not for us to take the high ground and decree that fans should not boo a player but it will sit uncomfortably with a good chunk of the support and indeed Twitter was awash with fans expressing their disgust that it happened. Professional footballers are of course very aware of when they have and haven’t played well and it was ironic that in the matchday programme, Nani had praised United’s fans.
There is of course no denying that his performance had been woeful – a contender for his worst ever at the club. It was an hour of poor decisions; wayward shooting; first-man hitting; and wastefulness. You’re never quite sure which Nani will turn up but against the poorer sides it invariably tends to be this Nani for some reason. To his credit, his cross that created our opening goal was a good one, his only one of the game; and he never tried to hide, he always went searching for the ball, but then invariably messed up. Sometimes he can’t win though – you get the feeling that from the first minute fans have written him off. Cries of “shoooot” are rewarded with an off-target shot which is then met with sighs, moans and shouting. Still, after being unlucky to be subbed against Southampton a week earlier, he was lucky to play as long as he did in this one.
Hernandez: Saviour and sinner
Javier Hernandez opened his 2013/14 league account with a winning headed goal with only ten minutes remaining on the clock. The Mexican once scored an instrintive back flicked headed at the Britannia to give United a late victory in 2010/11 and his impressive leap to get on the end of Evra’s superb cross proved to be as important as that goal three years ago.
It was the second time this season United have come from behind, following the 2-1 victory over Sunderland, and although Rooney and van Persie are Moyes’ first choice, Herandez will be looking for a starting berth against Fulham next Saturday. His knack of coming off the bench and scoring important winners is reminiscent of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, although the Mexican will surely not want rank up as many appearances as a substitute (unsurprisingly, Solskjaer holds the record for the most substitute appearances, with 150, for Manchester United).
Mark Hughes praised the cross that led to Hernandez goal but the Stoke City boss, who played in 93/94 defeat to Stoke City for United, felt that Hernandez shouldn’t have even been on the pitch after a late challenge on Robert Huth. He was rightfully booked, but the former United forward felt he should been red. It was late, a definite foul and a yellow card, which surely was sufficient punishment for the United man. Hughes was a superb player for United. His enormous thighs would strike venom into a thundering volley or a bicycle kick, but he also had a short fuse and could also be guilty of a late challenge. Remember Sheffield United in the FA Cup back in the 93/94 double season!?
Far from perfect, it was a relieving win for the players, staff and fans. The first comeback in the Moyes era was not one that had obviously been coming. Crouch’s opener came only after the ball had been hit against his gangly leg but it set the tone for an awkward half. Van Persie’s equaliser meant we were destined to go in level until Jones’ clumsy foul gave Arnautovic a free effort on goal on the edge of the area which he dispatched beautifully. De Gea somehow even got a hand to the free kick and he kept United in the game once again with a series of fine and important saves.
It was De Gea’s desire to get to a ball 35 yards from goal, coupled with Moyes’ attacking subs that suddenly cranked up the atmosphere and pressure on Stoke and at long last it paid off. Rooney’s fabulous header guided in a van Persie corner and less than two minutes later, Hernandez was on hand to head home Evra’s well placed cross. Stoke were seldom in the game but still somehow managed to look a threat on their rare forays forwards. In the second half, as they tried to hang onto a lead they reverted to type, notching up 18 fouls and picking up 6 yellow cards in the process.
United remain in eighth and eight points off the top with Fulham away next weekend. Before then, it’s Norwich at home in the League Cup and no doubt a chance for fringe players to get minutes and hopefully some of the U21s too.