Fuller earned the contest’s fourth caution as he protested a United free-kick – hindsight showed he should have kept quiet and trusted his keeper, given Sorensen denied Vidic when Giggs swung the set piece into the area. Stoke also thwarted the previous dead ball from Ronaldo, blocking with an effective (if encroaching?) wall.
If Sir Alex Ferguson had something to say at the break about United’s shot-shy half, then it stirred a quick reaction - Carlos Tevez stinging Sorensen’s palms with a ferocious strike shortly after the restart. The Argentine’s next effort went wide, a snapshot after Neville’s ball in from the right ricocheted off a couple of defenders.
Both goalkeepers were called upon to make great saves as the game opened up further towards the hour mark – first Sorensen dived brilliantly to deny a trademark shot from Scholes, then van der Sar sprawled right to prevent Fuller from putting the Potters up.
Under increasing pressure, Edwin wasn’t found wanting when Delap latched on to Pugh’s ball from a cleverly worked free-kick and when two corners came over in quick succession, the keeper convincingly punched one and caught the next.
With Stoke scenting blood, it was a bold step by Sir Alex Ferguson to replace a defender, John O’Shea, with a striker, Dimitar Berbatov. Such is the will to win at United – even when the Reds are under the cosh, three points is the only aim. Draws are for bores.
A rush of blood threatened to cost Stoke dear when Wilkinson hacked down Ronaldo and was rightly sent off for a second yellow card. Potters boss Tony Pulis readjusted for the loss by taking off midfielder Rory Delap and sending on defender Andrew Davies for the final 15 minutes.
Berbatov went close to scoring the first goal when he headed over at the back post from Ronaldo’s cross. Moments later, he assisted the breakthrough instead, nipping in front of a tired defender to collect Neville’s pass and send the ball towards the back post where Tevez gleefully tucked it home to break Stoke’s hearts and resilience.
Like his equalisers at Blackburn and Spurs last season, that late, greatly celebrated goal by Tevez could prove to be priceless when the title race unfolds in the new year.