United's perfect start to the Barclays Premier League season shuddered to a halt as Stoke City pegged the champions back in a gritty draw at the Britannia Stadium.
Nani's superb first-half opener gave an injury-hit Reds side a lead which was preserved by heroics from David De Gea, before Peter Crouch levelled matters shortly after the interval with his first goal for the Potters.
United's cause was hardly helped by the loss of Jonny Evans and Javier Hernandez to injury, during the warm-up and in the third minute respectively, while referee Peter Walton twice ignored strong penalty claims from the visitors.
Sir Alex Ferguson's pre-match preparations were dealt an untimely blow when Wayne Rooney sustained a slight hamstring injury during Friday's training session, and the loss of Evans to a foot injury in the warm-up prompted further reshuffling, with Phil Jones alongside Rio Ferdinand at centre-back and Antonio Valencia in at right-back. Dimitar Berbatov replaced Rooney.
The champions were baying for a spot-kick in the third minute, when Darren Fletcher’s pass was deflected in behind the Stoke defence. Chicharito raced onto the loose ball and was bundled to the ground by Jonathan Woodgate. Although the defender made scarcely detectable contact with the ball, referee Peter Walton declined to award the penalty.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s ire was hardly soothed when Glenn Whelan flew into a challenge which sent Patrice Evra head over heels, although the official was quick to punish the midfielder with a yellow card. Chicharito, who had collided heavily with Potters goalkeeper Asmir Begovic after Woodgate’s challenge, had to limp from the fray and was replaced by