Manchester United 2 Stoke City 1: Nani scorcher nets narrow win for Wayne Rooney-less United

05 January 2011 10:10
This has not been avintage ManchesterUnited season.They have rarelybeen very good,merely good enough.

However, in among the plethoraof narrow wins and perplexingdraws, there have been one or twoshining lights.

Nothing has twinkled morebrightly than the rare talents ofUnited's Portuguese winger Naniand their impish new Mexican forwardJavier Hernandez.

Can you believe it? Nani celebrates after putting United 2-1 ahead at Old Trafford

Nani is a player currently festoonedby remarkable statistics.In 2010, for example, he scored 10goals and contributed 21 directassists. Last night he began 2011with one of each.

In addition tothat, United have not lost any ofthe last 42 Barclays PremierLeague games Nani has started.As for Hernandez, his value cannot be judged by facts and figuresalone.

To assess his worth toUnited, a flick through YouTube isrequired.In the archives, his two smartgoals at Stoke back in Octoberwill be found.

Pea shooter: Javier Hernandez fired Manchester United into the lead after getting the better of Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross

There is also animpressive strike at an importantstage of a Champions Leaguegame at Valencia.Now there is also the remarkablegoal he scored last night and alsothe impressive way he assistedNani with his winning effort justafter the hour.These two players didn't beatStoke on their own.

United wererather methodical but they werestill the better team against aStoke s ide that somehowmanaged an equaliser with theirfirst effort on goal, early in thesecond half.

Nani and Hernandez were,however, the two mostinfluential players on a nightwhich once again cast thePremier League in a rathergloomy light.

Admittedly, it is difficult foreven the best Premier Leagueplayers to keep standardshigh when there are so manygames to play over theholiday period. It surelyis no coincidence thatHernandez and Nani stoodout, given the relative lackof football they havehad recently.

Strike it lucky: Dimitar Berbatov tries a shot from distance but it crashes into a Stoke player

None ofthis willbotherSir AlexFerguson, of course.Nor should it. Histeam have showedimpressive strength of will andcharacter to keep rolling forwardsduring a season that has usuallyseen their best form elude them.

Last night the United managerwould have been concerned duringan opening half-hour that sawStoke keep his team out with adegree of comfort.

He would alsohave been worried when Stokemidfielder Dean Whiteheadheaded his team level early in thesecond half.On reflection, though, Fergie willhave been pleased to see two ofhis younger players growing intotheir roles at Old Trafford.

It says much for Nani's increasedstanding at United in theabsence of Cristiano Ronaldothat he has been missedsorely during his recentabsence with a hip injury.

Heads up: Dean Whitehead nodded Stoke back onto level terms minutes after the interval

His return to the teamlast night immediatelybrought intelligence,purpose and balance toUnited's attacking play.

For half an hour, thehome team were a littlelethargic. Darron Gibsontried with twoshots from distance,Dimitar Berbatov wasdenied by a tacklefrom Andy Wilkinsonand then struck theoutside of the postfrom an offsideposition.

Quality players canturn games in aninstant, though, andthat is what happened in the 27thminute. Berbatov was involvedfrom deep as he often is, pickingup possession and feeding Nanidown the right.

Breaking free: Manchester United full-back Rafael gets past Stoke duo Tuncay Sanli and Matthew Eherington

With Stoke players funnellingback, there seemed little dangerbut as Nani crossed low to thenear post Hernandez got ahead ofvisiting defender Ryan Shawcrossto flick the ball beneath thedefender and into the net at thenear post.It was a sublimely taken goal,replays showing that the youngMexican had diverted the ballwith his heel.

Stoke, however, can score goalsfrom obscure positions.

MATCH STATS MAN UTD (4-4-2): Kuszczak 6; Rafael 6,Smalling 6, Vidic 6, Evra 6; Nani 7,Gibson 6 (Carrick 78 min), Fletcher 6,Giggs 6; Hernandez 8 (Owen 78),Berbatov 7. Subs not used: Amos,Fabio, Evans, Anderson, Obertan.

STOKE (4-5-1): Begovic 6; Wilkinson 7,Huth 6, Shawcross 7, Collins 6; Tuncay5, Whitehead 6, Wilson 6, Delap 6(Walters 68, 6), Etherington 6(Pennant 68, 6); Jones (Fuller 75, 6).Subs not used: Sorensen, Whelan,Higginbotham, Pugh.

Man of the match: Javier Hernandez.Referee: Mark Clattenburg 7.

TonyPulis' team can go for long periodswithout threatening but theirdirect style can be a benefit and soit proved last night.

The Turkish forward Tuncay hadalready nudged one chance wideearly in the second half when hepicked up possession out on theleft soon after.Turning away from Chris Smalling,who had been dragged out ofposition, Tuncay played anaccurate cross over NemanjaVidic.

Whitehead was able to movein front of Patrice Evra to head theequaliser down into the cornerfrom eight yards.

Stoke didn't necessarily deserveto be level but suddenly Unitedhad a problem. Between them,Hernandez and Nani managed tosolve it.

Hernandez didn't have too manyoptions when he received the ballwith his back to goal 20 yards out.But in finding Nani to his left, heshowed the kind of awareness thatcomes naturally to the bestforwards.Nani had much to do when heaccepted the ball and certainlyStoke defender Danny Collinsallowed him to turn too easily.

Thefinish that followed, though, wassublime and stunning. Stoke goalkeeperAsmir Begovic hardly sawthe ball as it flew by him.

From that point, Stoke rarelylooked like grabbing a foothold forthe second time. United had otherhalf chances to score. Theydeserved to win. Again.

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Source: Daily_Mail