Stoke City 1 Manchester United 1
The last time we visited the Potteries was a 1-2 loss back in February. How times have changed. New manager and new players, third in the league and unbeaten in the last nine games. Things were definitely looking up for the Red Devils as we entered 2015.
The Britannia Stadium has always been a tricky place to get results and today was no different, as the wind blew across the pitch making high balls hard to defend. Former United favourite Mark Hughes had the extra height of Peter Crouch in attack to cause havoc with the ball in the air. This was going to be a real test for United's defenders
Man Utd's starting eleven brought a recall for Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling to the starting line up in place of Antonio Valencia and Paddy McNair. The team: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Carrick, Young, Rooney, Mata, Shaw, Falcao, van Persie.
When the team was announced I cringed at the thought of Smalling, Jones and Evans together at the back, as something usually goes wrong, and after only 1 minute 45 seconds it did just that.
United must have known about the threat Stoke posed from set pieces, why they had so many players in the box doing nothing was totally unacceptable. I guarantee van Gaal, the perfectionist, was seething on the touchline that his side had conceded such an early goal in that manner.
It took 8 mins for United to win their first corner, but the delivery by Mata was not good enough, and Begovic collected easily. The second corner from Mata had exactly the same result. He again took the responsibility to take the third corner, which again was poor.
The uneasiness in the United side was summed up on the quarter hour by an over hit pass down the wing from Young which was meant for Falcao. Young is best suited playing on the left as has been proved with this match and the away match at Villa. he is quite simply wasted on the right.
United won a free kick on the edge of the Stoke area which Rooney took control of, but his effort was high and and not so handsome. You began to get that feeling it clearly was going to be one of those unfortunate days. Not much was going right for the team in blue.
United's equaliser came in the 26th minute when a Rooney corner from the left was heade on by Carrick's through to Falcao, who swept the ball into the net. A goal from nothing but welcome all the same. That was Falcao's third goal for United, and it came at a perfect time in the game.
The Stoke keeper Begovic angered van Persie by showing his studs as he kicked out his leg in the Dutchman's direction. Van Persie was rightly incensed, but the referee Michael Oliver and his assistant didn't see what happened. On closer inspection Begovic was lucky he didn't make contact with the forward or it could have been very nasty indeed.
The second half got under way with no changes in the United side. With Young still on the right and Shaw on the left you got the feeling that United were going to struggle to create chances. Stoke were closing down quickly and our midfield trio of Carrick, Rooney and Mata failed to stamp their authority on the game. Poor passing and dwelling too long on the ball gave Stoke a self belief, and they started to play the better football.
From the resulting clearance, United broke down the left only for Januzaj opting to shoot when a cross would have been the wiser choice. Shortly after, van Persie nearly managed to convert a lobbed shot, but sadly for him pulled it wide.
Crouch was causing all sorts of problems for United. In a two minute spell Stoke hit the post and Diouf had a blast from the edge of the box, which only just flew over the crossbar.
In the last 20 mins United had their own appeal for a penalty waved away, when Rafael looked as if he had been impeded. Maybe the referee was addressing the balance. When Januzaj did deliver a cross from the left, van Persie just couldn't quite convert it at the near post.
United finished the match on the attack with a flurry of corners and crosses, which in the end didn't result in any clear cut chances to grab a winner. It ended all square. Our poor performance made Stoke look the better side in the second half.
Valencia was missed today, as when he and Young played out wide there was a cohesion in the side. Now that Young and Valencia will be missing for the foreseeable future the need for other players to return is imperative. We desperately need Di Maria and Blind to make a speedy return and start winning again. On a positive note, United are now unbeaten in the last ten games.
The transfer window opens this weekend and as I've said many times this season the defence is our biggest problem area. We desperately need someone at the back with the experience to bring stability. How many points have been dropped by our inept defenders? To say that Smalling was the best defender on show today doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. Smalling, Jones and Evans are our own 'Bermuda Triangle' as strange things happen when their together.
United have faced Yeovil twice before, both matches in the FA Cup. The first was at Old Trafford in the 1937-38 season in the 3rd round that was won by United 3-0. The second match was in the 1948-49 season. This time it was in the 5th round. United played the match at Manchester City's ground, Maine Road. United netted 8 goals without reply. Incredibly the attendance that day was 81,565, amazing.
The first match of 2015 has ended rather disappointingly, but there is still a lot to look forward to, I'm sure.
Thanks for checking out my thoughts.