Wayne Rooney may have been absent as he celebrated his 25th birthday, but his presence loomed large at the Britannia Stadium as Manchester United's faltering Barclays Premier League title challenge stuttered back into life with a 2-1 win against Stoke.
Rooney was persuaded this week that Sir Alex Ferguson's men remain the team to beat, but an extraordinary few days at Old Trafford looked set for a miserable finish when Stoke substitute Tuncay hit a sublime 82nd-minute equaliser to cancel out Javier Hernandez's fine first-half header.
However, summer acquisition Hernandez found time to sweep in a late winner which ended a long wait for an away league victory and closed the gap on leaders Chelsea to five points.
Central to Rooney's push for a move away was a claim that the club, burdened with debt ever since the Glazer family's takeover, could no longer match his ambition by attracting the world's top players.
While that may be true to some extent, Hernandez is looking a more astute purchase by the game as he notched his fourth and fifth goals since joining from Guadalajara for around £7million over the summer.
Gary Neville was then incredibly fortunate not to be sent off at the end of the first half when referee Andre Marriner declined to show him a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Matthew Etherington.