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Man Utd vs Stoke City
 2 - 0 
Date: 
31/01/2012
Venue: 
Old Trafford
Attendance: 
74,719
Referee: 
Mike Jones

STOKE CITY'S 36-year long wait for victory at Old Trafford continued on Tuesday evening as goals from Javier Hernandes and Dimitar Berbatov helped reigning champions Manchester United close the gap on league leaders, and neighbours, Manchester City.

The victory for the Red Devils, which saw them move level with Roberto Mancini's side at the top of the Barclays Premier League, came courtesy of two penalties either side of the half-time interval.

Mexican star Hernandez, who grabbed himself a brace at the Britannia Stadium last season, cooly dispatched the first after Jermaine Pennant had brought down Park Ji-Sung, before a Jonathan Walters tug on winger Antonio Valencia gifted United a second.

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Tony Pulis stuck to his pre-match promise by making a number of changes to his starting line-up; one of which was the inclusion of winger Pennant, who came into the side to make his first start since the turn of the year.

Ryan Shawcross leads the team out at Old Trafford. ACTION IMAGES

Elsewhere, Thomas Sorensen returned in goal as expected following Asmir Begovic's cup duties at Pride Park on Saturday, whilst Wilson Palacios and Trinidad and Tobago skipper Kenwyne Jones also got the nod to start with Matthew Etherington and Glenn Whelan dropping to the bench.

The hosts, who were without the injured Anders Lindegaard and £17 million Spanish international David De Gea, were forced to hand a top flight debut to former Crewe Alexandra youth product Ben Amos in goal.

Elsewhere, there were no places in the squad for leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney, midfielders Nani and Ashley Young as well as Serbian ace Nemanja Vidic; all of whom were missing through injury.

Peter Crouch challenges Michael Carrick. ACTION IMAGES

Despite sitting just three points behind their city rivals prior to the game, it was the Potters who started the brighter of the two teams with Pennant in particular proving to be a nuisance to the United rearguard.

It was infact the former Real Zaragoza man who teed up Jon Walters in the eighth minute, however, he was unable to test United's rookie stopper as he dragged his effort harmlessly wide of the right hand post.

Jones hit a similar effort wide moments later from 18-yards, after Pennant had again laid him off following a superb cross field darting run.

Stoke inevitably weren't to have it all their own way however, as United began to show the credentials which have helped them to scoop 12 league titles under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Jermaine Pennant takes on Patrice Evra. ACTION IMAGES

Firstly Michael Carrick struck a tantalising effort across the face of goal, narrowly evading the fast approaching Javier Hernandes, whilst moments later Patrice Evra found himself free inside the 18-yard box only to skew an effort into the side-netting.

The game turned midway through the half when referee Mike Jones awarded the hosts what had initially appeared to have been a controversial penalty following a Pennant challenge inside the area.

At first glance the winger had appeared to have nicked the ball from under the feet of Park Ji-Sung, though replays did suggest that contact was made with the South Korean and the referee had made the correct call.

Either way, the damage was done when Hernandez stepped up and cooly slotted the ball home; sending Sorensen the wrong way.

Javier Hernandez scores from the spot against Stoke at Old Trafford. ACTION IMAGES

The evergreen Paul Scholes almost doubled the hosts advantage when he caught hold of a half-volley 20-yards out, though thankfully for Pulis' side, his effort dropped just wide of the post, after taking the slightest of deflections off Robert Huth.

Ferguson's side began to take full control of the encounter with Carrick and Scholes essentially winning the midfield, despite the best attempts of the industrious pairing of Palacios and Dean Whitehead in the centre.

The Potters will have taken some comfort from the fact that they had caused the hosts a number of early scares as they set about their business at the start of the second period, but things went from bad to worse when Mike Jones awarded the hosts a second spot kick just eight minutes in.

Republic of Ireland international Walters blatantly pulled the shirt of Valencia giving the referee no option but to award the kick. This time Berbatov stepped up and squeezed the ball into the bottom corner, despite Sorensen managing to get his fingers on his effort.

Antonio Valencia goes down under the attention of Jon Walters for the second penalty. ACTION IMAGES

Pulis introduced Jerome to the action soon after with Crouch the man to make way, and he almost halved the defecit within moments as he rose highest to head a Pennant centre goalwards, though Amos was equal to it down to his left.

At the other end a third penalty could have been awarded when Huth seemingly brought down Valencia, this time however, Jones waved play on much to the disappointment of the majority of the 70,000 in attendance.

As ever, Stoke failed to give in and continued to push forward on the odd occassion looking for a chink in the armoury of the United backline. Jones hit the sidenetting from a tight angle, whilst he may feel he could have done better after Pennant had picked him out superbly inside the 6-yard box.

It was United who had the better of the chances late on to add to their tally with Berbatov guilty of spurning a glorious opportunity to make it three in stoppage time when he had an empty net gaping in front of him.

Dean Whitehead closes down Park Ji-Sung. ACTION IMAGES

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Jermaine Pennant challenges Park Ji-Sung in the area. ACTION IMAGES
Two penalties for reigning champions Manchester United helped inflict a first home defeat on the Potters in 2012...
 Match Information
 
  Man Utd Stoke
Goals : 2 0
Possession : 57% 43%
Shots On Target : 7 3
Shots Off Target : 4 5
Corners : 9 2
Fouls : 9 14
Most Fouls : Scholes (3) Pennant (3)
Yellow Cards : 1 3
Red Cards : 0 0
 
Scorers :
Hernandez 38 (pen)
Berbatov 53 (pen)
 
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