Monday, 3 October 2016

United Rue Missed Chances

Manchester United 1 Stoke City 1

Manchester United failed to capitalise on their opportunities and even a splendid opener by Martial wasn't enough to earn all three points against Stoke.

United headed into this league match in a buoyant mood after three wins in a row that even though had been achieved without setting the pulses racing at least pointed Mourinho and his side in the right direction.

The night before the match came the sad news that former United and Stoke forward David Herd had passed away, so it was a fitting fixture to honour his memory and both sides wore black armbands out of respect.

Mourinho chose the same starting XI that blew away Leicester City in the first half last time out in the Premier League: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Blind, Pogba, Herrera, Mata, Lingard, Rashford and Ibrahimovic.

Once again Rooney would have to be resigned to a place on the bench alongside a recovered Martial as the manager perservered with Rashford. Mourinho clearly wanted to continue to explore the midfield partnership of Pogba and Herrera as it had worked so well against the champions.

United kicked off and immediately attacked the Stretford End with Pogba feeding a clever little ball through to Ibrahimovic, who looked odds on to score as he tried to lift the ball over the keeper but Grant stood firm and blocked the Swede's effort. Not a bad start for a keeper making his first Old Trafford start.

The early pace of United up front with the likes of Rashford and Lingard seemed to cause the Stoke defence worries and if not for some poor passes they could have easily got behind the defenders.

Antonio Valencia received an early yellow card for a rash challenge on Pieters on the right touchline.

Stoke had their own chances to upset the applecart, including a golden opportunity that was wasted by Cameron, who only had to find a corner but instead fired straight at De Gea.

At the other end, it was Pogba's turn to hide his face in his hands after he inexplicably fired his shot wide after some brilliant one touch football in the build up.

In the opening twenty minutes the crowd had seen three great chances squandered, but at least it was entertaining.

Teenage sensation Rashford stormed into the area and was unlucky not to pick out a teammate with a low cross from the byline.

United's diminutive Spaniard Mata tried an audacious chip from the edge of the area that the keeper just managed to tip over the bar. From the resulting corner, Pogba rose unmarked but guided his header wide.

It was a promising start from the home side who were comfortably in control and kept probing away at a deep lying Stoke defence.

Brilliant attacking play down the left-hand side by Ibrahimovic almost ended up with Lingard opening the scoring as he met the cross well enough to score. However, the keeper managed to intervene and it went out for a corner. Fantastic approach play by Ibrahimovic and it deserved a goal.

Next up it was Lingard's turn to become the provider as he delivered a delightful cross from the right which found Ibrahimovic at the far post and his first-time volley was blocked by Shawcross.

The chances were now coming thick and fast and surely it would be only a matter of time until United found the all important breakthrough.

That breakthrough would have come if Pogba hadn't have slipped before lining up a shot after another flowing move involving Ibrahimovic and Rashford.

There was a moment when Smalling was embarrassed with a nutmeg by the skillful Shaqiri down by the corner flag but Bailly bailed out his defensive partner with a clearance from the resulting cross.

Half time and all square at 0-0. United had moved the ball around well and showed good movement off the ball and would have been ahead if it hadn't been for some good saves by journeyman keeper Lee Grant.

The visitors got the second half underway with United unchanged from the first period.

Stoke won an early free kick delivered by Shaqiri that was met by the head of Indi and tipped over acrobatically by De Gea. The effort wouldn't have counted as the offside flag had been raised earlier.

United immediately went down the other end and won a corner that Mata took and as it was cleared Herrera tried to replicate his goal against Northampton Town but this time the shot lacked both power and direction.

The match had restarted in a scrappy manner and Herrera was lucky not to receive a red card after a high challenge on Allen in the centre circle. It was Allen who then almost opened the scoring as he tried to bend the ball into the corner but De Gea was equal to it.

Ibrahimovic also got his name into the referee's book for an alleged elbow on Shawcross.

On the hour mark, the match had become pedestrian which suited Stoke more and needed an injection of urgency from the Red Devils if they were to earn the win.

United were guilty of conceding a succession of free kicks thirty yards from goal which gave the visitors numerous chances to deliver threatening balls into the box.

As Mourinho organised his substitutions Herrera let fly with a shot that kept low and whisked just wide.

The changes Mourinho made were Rooney and Martial on for Mata and Lingard with just over twenty minutes of the match left.

Ibrahimovic picked the ball up deep and when there was nothing on in front of him tried a shot himself and it almost paid off as the ball was only a whisker away from going in.

The breakthrough finally came in the 69th minute from a brilliant strike by Martial who had started the move down the left, then played the ball to Rooney on the edge of the area who was dispossessed by a defender, but luckily for United the ball fell nicely back into the path of Martial who curled a delightful ball into the far corner of the net that the keeper had no chance of saving.

The goal was reminiscent of the one he scored against the same opposition last season.

It was that man Martial who was making all the difference since his arrival on the pitch as once again he created the next chance. He never gave up the chase for the ball inside the area as first he then Ibrahimovic and finally Blind were left frustrated by the defence as the ball ricocheted around the area.

It was all out attack from the Reds as Ibrahimovic had one chance blocked, then another saved by Grant in goal.

Stoke had all hands on the pump to thwart United's hope of a second goal and their patience paid off when they managed to snatch an equaliser in the 82nd minute with a goal from nowhere.

De Gea showed he is in fact human when he only managed to parry a low shot away from his goal line that was flicked back into the six-yard box over him and two of his defenders and there was Allen on hand to tuck the ball into an open net.

It was noticeable in the build-up to the goal that De Gea had a chance to collect a deep cross but elected to leave it for his defenders who then proceed to give it away and that move led to the goal.

Mourinho made his last change of the day by introducing Memphis for Herrera.

Rashford now playing on the right crossed a ball that was met with a firm header by Pogba which crashed against the bar.

With four minutes of injury time added Rooney took over the corner and free kick duties and to be honest his deliveries were poor, to say the least.

Full time and United were the victims of their own undoing as they allowed Stoke to commit a smash and grab raid to share the spoils.

This match was a difficult one to assess as United had done enough to win it in the first hour, but once they took the lead allowed Stoke to claw their way back to earn a vital point. On any other day, both Ibrahimovic and Pogba could easily have scored a double each but it wasn't to be.

The visiting keeper, as is so often the case at Old Trafford, had a game to remember and deserved the Man of the Match award.

Once again we now head into another international break and then the fun really starts with United up against Liverpool, City and Chelsea before the end of the month. Those are the matches that United can't afford to make the same mistakes in as they did against Stoke.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.