By Robert Morris
With just five minutes remaining at the Britannia Stadium it looked to be an all too familiar scenario for Manchester United, until Mexican striker Javier Hernandez stepped up to seal a last gasp win.
Just days after the speculation surrounding the Wayne Rooney saga was put to bed, the Red Devils travelled to the Midlands in order to battle Tony Pulis’ tough Stoke City outfit. Injuries to Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs mean that United are struggling for both pace and width of late, causing Patrice Evra to make the move from left-back to left-wing.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men looked bright from the outset and played the ball around at an impressive pace. As expected, The Potters attempted to close United down at every opportunity and looked to unsettle them with the odd rough tackle. Unfortunately, it was to no avail as Manchester United took the lead in the 27th minute, against the run of play. A short corner whipped in towards the far post by Luis Nani found Nemanja Vidic to head back across, before Hernandez, facing away from goal, left into the air to flick his header backwards into the top corner. The 22 year old’s finish is without doubt one of the greatest headers ever scored in the English Premier League.
Before the end of the first half, Gary Neville, making his 600th appearance for United, was extremely fortunate to escape a red card after two mistimed tackles. Perhaps, had they rightly gone down to 10 men, the Red Devil’s may have been punished and forced to suffer in similar fashion to Manchester City. Although Gary Neville emerged for the second-half, he was quickly replaced by Wes Brown in order to avoid such an incident.
In the second-half both sides looked a little nervous at the back, however, United almost made it 2-0 when an impressive throw from Edwin van der Sar found Berbatov on the half way line. Despite the Bulgarian delivering a fantastic cross, Hernandez’s outstretched boot could only steer the ball wide of the post.
In the final ten minutes Stoke took full advantage of United’s missed opportunities when Paul Scholes cheaply lossed possession. Substitute Tuncay Sali picked up the loose ball, cut inside, and released a terrific curling shot into the top corner of the net. The home fans were rocking as United’s title hopes looked to have taken another massive dent.
Manchester United have prided themselves in the past for their ‘never say die’ attitude and today was no exception. On the 85th minute, Berbatov’s floating ball into the box found Evra, whose unconvincing effort deflected to Hernandez, allowing the pocket-sized forward to show great instinct; pouncing from close range and converting the vital winner. Hernandez, commonly known as ‘Chicharito’, now has a higher goal-to-minutes ratio this season than both Didier Drogba and Carlos Tevez. The future looks very bright for the rising star.
At the full-time whistle Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted with his men, as United earned their first away win of the season, suggesting a possible change of fortunes for the Reds. Whether or not United will maintain their recent run of good form only time will tell.