STOKE CITY 1, MANCHESTER UNITED 1
Stoke City once again cemented their reputation as a tricky side to play against at a blustery Britannia Stadium as Manchester United drew their third game in the last four in the Barclays Premier League leaving Reds manager Louis van Gaal rueing a run of just two wins out of ten on their travels in the league.
Radamel Falcao’s first half strike cancelled out Stoke’s early goal, inevitably from a well worked set piece corner routine volleyed home by former United defender Ryan Shawcross but the Potters failed to capitalise on their own chances to win and were perhaps denied a penalty shout.
After a six game winning run following defeat at Manchester City in November 2014, United’s resurgence seems to have hit the rocks with successive draws at Tottenham and Stoke City, three in the last four including a point at Aston Villa, combined with more injuries to key players.
Ashley Young, used at left wing back with some success in recent games, was switched to right wing back and pulled a hamstring in the second half while Luke Shaw, himself slowly returning from a month long injury lay-off, was also withdrawn in the second half.
Shawcross had given Stoke the lead in only the second minute of the game from a Marko Arnautovic corner that was flicked on by Peter Crouch before Shawcross volleyed the goal.
Mame Biram Diouf should have extended that lead when he got on the end of an Arnautovic long ball but couldn’t get a shot on target to force a save from David De Gea after beating a dawdling Johnny Evans to the ball.
Falcao levelled matters with his third United goal with a close range equaliser after 26 minutes after Michael Carrick had flicked on Wayne Rooney’s corner but despite dominating possession United couldn’t break down an organised Stoke side and more than once found themselves struggling with conditions at Stoke.
Chris Smalling, in the side after injury to Paddy McNair, was unconvincing as part of United’s back three of Johnny Evans, Smalling and Phil Jones which struggled to cope with the cross winds and long balls towards the area and even appeared to be in some disarray over organisation at times.
Smalling himself might have even conceded a penalty after Peter Crouch headed the ball into his arm while Crouch’s long range header later came off the post and Diouf fired over.
United will rue the lack of chances as several players seemed tired after a busy Christmas fixture schedule but they will get a chance to take a break from Barclays Premier League action with an FA Cup trip to Yeovil on Sunday.