STOKE CITY 1, MAN UNITED 1.
All good things must come to an end and Manchester United’s 100-per-cent start to their Premier League campaign did so in the Potteries, though they remain top of the table.
Stoke City have a habit of turning over the big clubs and at the Britannia Stadium this evening they became the first to snatch points from the reigning champions who have made an explosive start to their title defence.
There was also an element of controversy as the outcome would surely have been different had Stoke been reduced to 10 men in the early stages.
Television replays confirmed Robert Huth clearly shoved Javier Hernandez in the back as he was clean through on goal. They ought to have been awarded and spot kick and the big central defender dismissed.
And to compound United’s misery Huth’s challenge sent the Mexican clattering into Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic and ended his afternoon as he limped off after only 11 minutes as Michael Owen was given an extended run after his first appearance of the season at Leeds in midweek.
Sir Alex Ferguson was convinced his side ought to have been awarded a spot kick as he said: “I think a lot of referees would have given a penalty.
“The defender pushed Chicharito into the keeper, but it was too early in the game to give a penalty.”
The double whammy of losing Hernandez and not being awarded a penalty simply added to United’s woes as they were missing Wayne Rooney who was nursing a slight hamstring strain while Jonny Evans was injured in the warm up. This resulted in winger Antonio Valencia playing right back as Phil Jones moved to the centre of defence to accompany the returning Rio Ferdinand.
When United went ahead in the 27th minute through Nani’s third goal of the season, it looked as though it would be the launch pad for a sixth straight league victory.
Nani played a delightful one-two with Darren Fletcher and then after a weaving run he fired low past Begovic.
Stoke are made of sterner stuff, however, as they were unlucky not to be on level terms by the break as keeper David De Gea superbly deflected Andy Wilkinson’s shot on to the crossbar and then pull off an equally memorable save to deny Jon Walters.
They were eventually rewarded in the 52nd minute when Peter Crouch was left unmarked to head home a corner from six yards. What a way to get off the mark for Stoke as he also joined a select band of players to have scored for six different Premier League clubs.
Stoke had chances to take the lead when Crouch had another effort which struck the shoulder of De Gea as it deflected over the bar and fired wide after appearing to have done the hard work. Mark Wilson also had a pile-drive free kick fisted out by the Spaniard.
Yet deep into stoppage time, United so nearly snatched victory as they have so often done in the past. Nani cross reached substitute Ryan Giggs unmarked at the far post but he sliced his shot wide when nine times out of ten you would have expected him to find the net.
Ferguson was not too displeased by United’s performance saying they handled the Stoke threat from set pieces well.
“On the one occasion we didn’t, Crouch scored,” he lamented.