Fuller’s strike partner Richard Cresswell was the first player in referee Chris Foy’s book, after leading with his arm in an aerial duel with Evans. Victim and perpetrator traded roles for United’s first yellow when Evans clattered Cresswell, moments after Foy failed to see Rooney being tugged back by young right-back Andy Wilkinson. However, the latter’s next foul, on Ryan Giggs, was duly censured by the busy official.
This ugly spell in the first half did have one flash of beauty, Rooney swooping to head into Thomas Sorensen’s hands from another effective cross by Neville. Evans also came close to scoring but his close-range shot was blocked by Danny Higginbotham, another of Stoke’s ex-United trio (completed by left midfielder Danny Pugh).
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