MAN UTD 4, STOKE CITY 2
Wayne Rooney’s scoring exploits often follow the route of the proverbial London bus – you wait ages for one then several appear at once.
No goals in the opening two months of the season, although he was injured for half that time, then Rooney bags three goals for England and a Premier League hat-trick in just over a week.
But this was a hat-trick with a difference as his first goal was for Stoke and his other two for United.
Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck completed United’s tally, while Michael Kightly was Stoke’s other scorer.
Although the Reds were again impressive going forward, question marks continue to hang over a defence which has now leaked 11 goals in eight games.
Sloppy defending and goalkeeper David De Gea’s reluctance to leave his line and command his penalty area were again capitalised upon by opponents.
Sensing United’s vulnerability at the back, Stoke were far more adventurous than they usually are at Old Trafford.
They attacked United in the first half and took an 11th minute lead. De Gea seemed glued to his line when Charlie Adam’s free kick from the right by-line was headed into his own net by Rooney four yards out.
De Gea produced an excellent save to claw an Adam shot from the left off his line seconds later and followed it up with a good stop from Jon Walters; 15-yard drive.
But United never panic in such a situation and levelled the scores in the 27th minute.
Patrice Evra found Rooney, who delivered his pass to van Persie out on the left before racing into the Stoke box.Van Persie’s cross was perfection and Rooney glided between Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth to head the ball into the net from six yards.
United began to increase the tempo and Welbeck’s curling 25-yard drive form the left edge of the Stoke penalty area clipped the top of the bar on its way over.
The Reds took the lead a minute before the interval.
Rooney stroked the ball to Antonio Valencia on the right corner of the Stoke box and his low cross was guided into the far corner of the net by van Persie four yards out on the near post.
The second half was less than a minute old when United struck their third goal. Michael Carrick found Rooney on the right edge of the Stoke box and he looped his precision cross into the centre of the box where the diving Welbeck scored with a delicate glancing header 12 yards out.
It should have been four three minutes later, but Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic briliantly turned away a Jonny Evans poinblank header from a Rooney cross.
Such is the current frailty of the United defence that a two-goal advanatage is not enough to guarantee the points with almost half the game still to go.
In the 58th minute, Evra lost the ball on his foray forward. Michael Kightly collected it and kept on running to the edge of the United box.
The Stoke winger was lucky with his rebound off Rio Ferdinand and he capitalised on his good fortune to score with a shot from just inside the penalty area which crept over the line off a post.
United nerves were soon calmed when Rooney scored his second goal seven minutes later.
Van Persie’s corner cleared a ruck of players in the centre of the visitors’ box. The ball hit Shawcross and then bounced off Welbeck to fall perfectly for Rooney to slot in his far post shot from close range.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “I am pleased that Wayne and Danny got off the mark for the season.
“Some of our movement was tremendous, but it is worrying that we keep conceding goals at home. Hopefully, we can sort it out.”