The euphoric away support were still celebrating when Adam almost doubled Stoke’s lead, firing in an audacious effort from the left touchline which De Gea alertly scrambled to safety. Though falling behind was an established trend in the early stages of 2012/13, the goal sucked much of the impetus away from United, with Stoke clearly galvanised.
And, while the visitors’ famed direct approach was often on show, there was substantial guile to complement the graft. Mere moments after De Gea had fielded Peter Crouch’s close-range header, a superb, intricate passing move culminated in the Spaniard parrying away Jonathan Walters’ left-footed effort.
Those efforts sandwiched United’s clearest opening of the game, as Welbeck and van Persie executed a neat one-two and the England international dragged his finish wide of Asmir Begovic’s goal.
The Stoke stopper was beaten, however, shortly before the half-hour mark as Rooney atoned for his earlier opener. Van Persie, having pulled wide left in the Reds’ revolving attack, received the ball from Rooney, then swung a magnificent cross into the six yard box, where Rooney had superbly manoeuvred between Shawcross and Huth to nod home.
For the remainder of the first half, the tone had been set, with the Reds’ forward quartet central to most of what transpired. Van Persie’s flighted ball was superbly controlled by Rooney and set for Welbeck, who fired over under heavy pressure from Shawcross. A surging run from