A turn in fortune? A dogged and determined Stoke City stood firm and came away from Manchester with a point on Sunday lunchtime. Monumental efforts from Lee Grant and Joe Allen played a major part in earning a very respectable draw at Old Trafford.
United started the brighter and it looked like it could be 1-0 to the hosts within the first minute.
Frenchman Paul Pogba received the ball on the edge of the box and slipped in Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic tried to catch out Grant at his near post, but the veteran stopper was up the task. A tremendous reaction save kept out the initial effort. The rebound fell to the Swede but Grant was up again to deny him at the expense of a corner.
Stoke were playing like a bottom three side and were mostly chasing shadows. Four minutes in and Pogba was at it again, finding himself the wrong side of Ryan Shawcross. The captain, though, recovered well and stopped the cross.
The hosts then had a penalty shout rightly turned down when the ball struck the hand of Erik Pieters who was none the wiser.
Stoke wake up
The talisman-to-be in Joe Allen got to work. Picking the ball up, the Welshman spread the play wide to find Marko Arnautovic.
The Austrian whipped the ball in, eventually falling to Geoff Cameron. The American’s shot, though, was comfortably fielded by David De Gea.
Stoke began to grow into the game. A few minutes later, Allen played a neat 1-2 with Xherdan Shaqiri on the right.
Allen picked out Wilfried Bony in the middle who fluffed his lines. The ball once more found its way into the path of Cameron, who again sent a weak shot straight at the United keeper.
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Grant shows his worth
Chances were being created at both ends. Spaniard Juan Mata took a chance to lob Grant but the keeper saw it coming and pushed the effort over the bar.
Ibrahimovic was causing problems with his movement and creating space.
Picking up the ball on the right, the Swede fired a low cross into the box that Jesse Lingaard got on the end of. Grant was again called into action and produced a point blank save.
United were creating the majority of the chances in the first half. Stoke though, deserved to go into the break level. Dogged defending and gutsy play in the midfield was frustrating Jose Mourinho’s charges.
Isolated for much of the first half, Bony surprisingly came out for the second period. Seconds after the restart, Arnautovic found Bony from the kick off.
A half-time talking to from Mark Hughes had the Ivorian suddenly looking interested. Bony controlled well and drew a foul about 35 yards out.
The free-kick came to nothing and it was United’s turn to attack again.
Jesse Lingaard sprung the offside trap and Stoke had Grant to thank once more as he smothered at the feet of the youngster.
The ball was cleared and fell to Allen who was caught on the thigh by the studs of Ander Herrera. Herrera could have been dismissed on another day, but was shown a yellow card by referee Bobby Madley.
Replays suggested Herrera had no intention of catching Allen as he had eyes only for the ball.
The resulting free kick set up a good attack or the Potters. Some great one touch play from Shaquiri and Arnautovic let Allen in.
Still with plenty to do, Allen managed to buy himself a yard but couldn’t get anything behind his effort.
Old Trafford grows restless
United’s frustration was growing, and Ibrahimovic was finally booked after numerous assaults on Shawcross. 65 minutes gone and Jose had seen enough, making a double substitution.
Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial came on in place of Lingaard and Mata.
The changes paid dividends. Minutes later Cameron put a foot in on Rooney, only to see the ball roll into the path of Martial.
The Frenchman composed himself and dispatched a curled shot into the top corner that Grant could do nothing about.
United kept their foot on the gas, clearly eager to kill the game off.
The Potters dug in and held firm, restricting the hosts to half-chances and putting bodies on the line when required.
United were torn between going for the killer blow or keeping possession as the minutes ticked by.
Mark Hughes threw caution to the wind and made a double substitution of his own. Peter Crouch and Jon Walters came on for the sub-par Bony and Arnautovic.
This time it was Hughes who would take the plaudits for a shrewd shake-up.
Five minutes later, United failed to clear a ball into the box and pinball ensued.
De Gea was there to stop an initial effort from Walters, who then saw his rebounded effort pushed onto the bar.
Joe Allen was in the right place at the right time as he poached to equalise for the Potters.
As expected, United pushed for the winner in the final 10 minutes, but came up short and Stoke’s efforts were rewarded.
Mark Hughes can take great pride in a stoic performance from his side.
A much more confident approach and a new-found attitude gave Stoke a result they needed. Hughes will now no doubt like to use this performance to kick-start and underwhelming campaign thus far.
At the back, Shawcross coped well with the physicality of Ibrahimovic. The Swede’s movement at times made a tough afternoon for the skipper.
Grant and Allen, along with Shawcross played an integral part in Sunday’s inspired performance.
Grant deservedly captured the man of the match award from the BT Sport pundits. Allen’s work rate though did not go unnoticed.
Coming from behind at Old Trafford is good achievement, and one Stoke can use to turn their season around.
On the balance of play, the scoreline could easily have gone the other way and Stoke would have left Old Trafford feeling very aggrieved.
The first point at the Theatre of Dreams since 1980 is a great positive. Onwards and upwards.