Manchester United 2 Stoke 0
Manchester United 2 Stoke City 0. Old Trafford, English Premier League, January 31, 2012. Manchester United collected a comfortable and confidence-boosting 2-0 victory against Stoke City at Old Trafford. United went in front through a penalty from Javier Hernandez with seven minutes remaining of the first period before Dimitar Berbatov made the score 2-0 in favour of the home team with a second spot-kick eight minutes after the resumption.
After suffering a 2-1 defeat against North West enemies Liverpool at Anfield in the fourth round of the FA Cup three days earlier, it was back to the the bread and butter of the Premier League for Manchester United as they took on Tony Pulis´s Stoke City at Old Trafford. United had to manage without several key players, including defenders Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic; midfielders Oliveira Anderson, Tom Cleverley, and Darren Fletcher; and forward Wayne Rooney, who were all out with injuries. City, for their part, were without forward Mamady Sidibe, who was sidelined with a knee problem, but midfielder Matthew Etherington was back to fitness after picking up an injury during the second half of the 2-0 FA Cup Fourth Round win against Championship Derby County at Pride Park at the weekend. In the corresponding meeting of the 2010-11 season, Manchester United had edged out an aggressive and well-organised Stoke side by 2-1 at Old Trafford courtesy of goals from Javier Hernandez and Nani. In the reverse fixture on the twenty-fourth of September 2011, however, the teams had played out a 1-1 draw at Britannia Stadium with Nani giving United the lead in the first half and Peter Crouch equalising for the hosts after the restart. Stoke had not managed to defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford since the twenty-first of April 1976, though, when Tony Waddington´s ageing team won by 1-0 thanks to a late goal from long serving stalwart Alan Bloor. Now, if football history and statistics were anything to go by, then the Staffordshire club needed heavenly help to beat United at The Theatre of Dreams.
Needless to say, Manchester United were favourites to overcome Stoke City this time as well, but despite dominating the possession of the ball from the first whistle, the home players struggled hard to break down a very determined and resilient away defence. Evergreen veteran midfielder Paul Scholes came close to putting United on the scoreboard in the twenty-first minute of the Tuesday encounter, only for his volley to fly just a few inches wide of the upright. Anyway, seven minutes before the sound of the half-time signal, Ji-Sung Park won a penalty-kick which Hernandez subsequently converted to hand Manchester United a fully deserved lead, but as the intensity grew, Scholes was on the receiving end of a yellow card for an unnecessary tough challenge on Trinidad and Tobago international Kenwyne Jones with a couple of minutes left of the first half. Following the interval, Ecuadorean winger Antonio Valencia managed to gain another spot-kick for Manchester United, and it was this time taken by Dimitar Berbatov who hammered home his seventh goal of the 2011-12 season in the fifty-third minute of the clash. Injecting fresh legs into the team, Sir Alex Ferguson eventually decided to hand Paul Pogba his Premiership debut when he let the young midfield prospect come on as a late replacement for goal scorer Chicharito in the seventy-fourth minute of the contest. But although the disciplined and persistent Manchester United side continued to dominate proceedings for the remainder of the second half, Ferguson´s Premier League title chasers failed in their attempt to find their third goal of the fixture.
Sir Alex was well pleased with the team effort against The Potters, and he especially singled out Pogba and Ben Amos for praise. Sir Alex Ferguson: “We played a lot of good football and scored two penalties while we could have had two more. Paul Pogba did really well when he came on. You cannot believe that he is only eighteen-years-old. As for Ben Amos, he has got potential. He never flapped at anything.” Manchester United Team: Ben Amos, Chris Smalling, Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Evans, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov, Ji-Sung Park, Javier Hernandez. Substitutes: Danny Welbeck, William Keane, Rafael da Silva, Fabio da Silva, Ryan Giggs, Paul Pogba, Tomasz Kuszczak. Stoke City Team: Thomas Sorensen, Robert Huth, Andrew Wilkinson, Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson, Wilson Palacios, Jermaine Pennant, Dean Whitehead, Jonathan Walters, Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones. Substitutes: Jonathan Woodgate, Matthew Etherington, Glenn Whelan, Rory Delap, Ricardo Fuller, Cameron Jerome, Asmir Begovic.
Paul Pogba Quickfacts
While at Le Havre AC, Paul Pogba was handed his youth international debut for his native France in a 4-2 win over Wales at Stebonheath Park in Llanelli on the twenty-third of September 2008.