STOKE CITY 0, MANCHESTER UNITED 2
United need just seven points from six games to wrest the Barclays Premier League crown from Manchester City’s grasp after they eased to a 2-0 win at Stoke to leave the out-of-form Potters looking over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight immediately beneath them.
Michael Carrick scored in the fourth minute from a corner and Robin Van Persie wrapped up the points with a 66th minute penalty, ending his recent United goal drought prompting the Dutchman to celebrate with a warm embrace of his manager on the touchline who had kept faith in him.
It was a routine win for the Red Devils and Sir Alex Ferguson remained keen to finish the season off as early as possible as United bid to claim their 20th league title.
He said: “We are a game closer – the important thing is not to take our eye off the ball.
“Coming here is always a difficult game, with the wind blowing the ball all over the place.”
The players stood up to that, they persevered and it was an important victory. Van Persie showed fantastic composure and concentration and he hit the perfect penalty and it was a great celebration.”
Ferguson also praised the contribution of his other superstar striker, Wayne Rooney, who was deployed in a deeper role against Stoke with Shinji Kagawa supporting Van Persie in attack.
He continued: “I thought Wayne looked very confident, but he needs a little boost in his confidence.
“He is like any other player that doesn’t hit the heights that people expect, or that he sets for himself.”
There was also a wry comment about van Persie’s goal celebration as Ferguson said: “He nearly killed me! He forgets I’m 71. It was a great celebration as it brought the emotion of the players and the fans together.”
United could not have made a better start when Phil Jones’s attempted overhead kick caused confusion in the Stoke penalty area as Carrick nipped in ahead of Kenwyne Jones to nick the ball past keeper Asmir Begovic.
It was Carrick’s first goal in the league for 15 months, and what a timely one it proved in a strangely subdued opening period.
Stoke were beginning to inch their way back into the game midway through the second half when United struck again.
Antonio Valencia and Rooney set up van Persie who was brought down by Andy Wilkinson as he cut back inside him.
The Dutchman, without a goal in 12 hours and 31 minutes, finished emphatically low to the left of Begovic..