Talk before the game was about how United’s defence, yet to keep a clean sheet in a league away match this season, would handle Stoke’s aerial bombardment from Delap’s infamous throws and the deliveries from wingers Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington. How ironic, then, that a corner should find the Potters floundering in their own box for Chicharito’s breakthrough goal on 27 minutes. From the set-piece, Nani played a one-two with Patrice Evra and crossed to the far post, the majestic Nemanja Vidic won the aerial battle to nod the ball back into the mixer, and Chicharito – the smallest man on the park – beat Sorensen with a sweet back-header.
Chicharito almost bagged a cheeky second when Faye sold his keeper slightly short with an under-hit backpass, and as Sorensen cleared, the ball cannoned back off the Mexican but cleared the crossbar. Another effort went over the top when Evra met Nani’s corner.
The Reds looked more likely to score again than concede as the first half drew to a close but there was controversy when Neville scythed down Stoke winger Matthew Etherington only moments after being booked for a foul on the same player. Boos rang out around the Britannia as referee Andre Marriner declined to give the right-back his marching orders. Instead, Neville left the fray at his manager’s behest, and was replaced by Wes Brown for the second half. The period opened in similar fashion to the first and there was a momentary flash of danger when former Reds centre-back Ryan Shawcross attempted an overhead kick inside the United box.
Marriner took action when Danny Collins’ crunching foul on Nani brought an angry Sir Alex to the touchline – the referee booked the Stoke left-back – but he did nothing when Evra was crudely shoved over in the area by Delap with only Sorensen to beat. Evra also appealed in vain for a penalty when his ball inside the box struck one, if not both, of Robert Huth’s hands but