Boxing Day Heartbreak For Potters
A late Carlos Tevez goal crushed Stoke`s Christmas dream as Manchester United set there title ambitions back on track in a enthralling battle in front of a sell out Britannia Stadium. Stoke huffed and puffed all afternoon but couldn`t hang on for a point as United`s world beaters cruelly claimed the points, to make matters only 10 minutes previously Andy Wilkinson got his marching orders to leave 25,000 fans dreaming of what might have been.
Tony Pulis made 3 changes from the team that were soundly beaten at Blackburn with Thomas Sorensen, Andy Wilkinson and former Man United player Danny Pugh recalled. Out went Steve Simonsen, Ibrahima Sonko and Vincent Pericard who took up their places on the subs bench along side Liam Lawrence who has missed the last 12 games after tripping over his pet Dog.
Stoke put United under intense pressure and had a glorious chance to take the lead after 50 seconds. A miss-hit Cresswell shot went high up into the sky and United defender Jonny Evens miss-timed his clearance, the ball fell to Fuller who stabbed the half-volley high over the bar after being one on one with Edwin Van Der Sar.
United looked dangerous with crisp passing and clever movement saw them constantly reaching the penalty area, Stoke`s defence stood their ground though and United strikers Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez barely got a kick.
After plenty of United possession, Stoke had a short spell of their own with a couple of corners and the fit again Rory Delap`s throw-ins. Delap arrowed in one of his throw-ins and it escaped contact at the near post but the ageing Van Der Sar reacted quickly saving down low to his right.
The electric crowd were soon bought back down to earth as the ever lively Rooney met Gary Neville`s cross with venom. Sorensen caught the ball impressively as he turned in another brilliant performance that deserved a clean sheet.
Referee Chris Foy wasn`t a fan`s favourite after booking both Richard Cresswell and Andy Wilkinson in quick succession. United increased the tempo but Stoke hung on until half time and received a rapturous applause from the crowd.
Stoke were matching Man United in all areas of the field and were surprising all the critics, as they were without 4 or 5 regular first team players due to injuries.
United were the quickest out of the blocks after the break as Carlos Tevez forced a fine save from Sorensen and then he fired wide from inside the box.
The game burst into life with end to end football, Stoke`s Amdy Faye and Danny Pugh threatened from wide positions, United then retaliated through Paul Scholes. The deep lying playmaker collected the ball 20 yards out and set upon unleashing one of his famous thunder bolt shots, the ball flew towards the far corner before Sorensen expertly palmed it away and pounced on it to stop it going for a united corner.
Stoke, with the crowd firmly behind them, targeted to break the Scrooge like Manchester rearguard. Fuller hit a crisp left foot shot that Van Der Sar palmed away, and from a Delap throw the notably impressive Danny Pugh headed inches over.
Just as Stoke started to dominate the play the quiet Cristiano Ronaldo side stepped Wilkinson who bought him down late. Referee Chris Foy had no hesitation in showing him his second yellow and consequently a red.
This knocked the wind out of the Potters sails even though Pulis bought on the deputising Andrew Davies. United took control and passed the ball around the 10 men of Stoke, Ronaldo shot well wide and Berbatov headed over as the champions regained some loss confidence.
With 83 minutes on the board United snatched victory through Carlos Tevez. The Argentinean was on the end of a sweeping move involving Giggs, Fletcher and finally Berbatov who squared the ball across for Tevez who slotted comfortably home.
United played the game out with ease and now lie 7 points off leaders Liverpool with 2 games in hand. Stoke slump down to 18th albeit on goal difference. Next up is a crucial encounter away at West Ham who are only a few places above the Potters.