Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov both scored penalties as Manchester United erased Manchester City’s three-point lead in the title race with a fourth consecutive league win.
The two strikers, paired in attack for the first time since New Year’s Eve, shared the spot-kick duties either side of the interval as Stoke City’s resistance crucially faltered on two occasions.
Jermaine Pennant felled Ji-sung Park for Chicharito’s 38th-minute penalty and Jon Walters fouled Antonio Valencia for Berbatov’s big moment, eight minutes after the break.
Chances in open play were few and far between, but opportunities to impress were taken with both hands by two Barclays Premier League debutants – Ben Amos started in goal with Anders Lindegaard and David De Gea both injured, while Paul Pogba replaced Chicharito for a memorable last 18 minutes.
Meanwhile, Pogba’s former United Reserves team-mate Ravel Morrison was completing a permanent move to West Ham but the bigger distraction for the home fans was the news of Darron Gibson – another January departure from Old Trafford – scoring against City for Everton at Goodison Park.
The Reds began this game with four changes to the line-up that lost at Liverpool, with Amos, Rio Ferdinand, Berbatov and Hernandez coming in for De Gea, Rafael, Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck.
As the drafted-in players bedded down, Stoke made the brighter start. Jon Walters demonstrated the danger he can present with a driving run and shot that flashed inches wide of Amos’ right-hand post. Kenwyne Jones then volleyed comfortably the wrong side of the same upright after Ferdinand only managed to half-clear Jermaine Pennant’s cross. At the