Stoke salvages draw vs. Man United

Peter Crouch scored an equalizer for Stoke to end Manchester United’s perfect start to the Premier League season with a 1-1 draw on Saturday.

The 10 million pound ($15.5 million) record signing from Tottenham became only the sixth player to score for six different Premier League clubs when he headed in a 53rd-minute equalizer.

However, the draw did not prevent United from returning to the top of the Premier League, replacing city rival Manchester City, which earlier beat Everton, on goal difference.

United had taken a 26th-minute lead through Portugal winger Nani but it proved a difficult afternoon for manager Alex Ferguson who left prolific forward Wayne Rooney out of his squad.

Defender Jonny Evans was injured in the pre-game warm-up and had to be replaced, while Javier Hernandez limped off in the 10th minute, having failed with a strong penalty appeal after a challenge from Jonathan Woodgate.

Replays suggested Hernandez was unlucky not to get the decision but, despite the early disappointment, United was soon in the ascendancy with Stoke’s Rory Delap required to clear a Phil Jones header off the line.

United soon took the lead as Nani collected the ball midway inside the Stoke half and exchanged tidy passes with Darren Fletcher, leaving Woodgate in his wake before placing an accurate low shot into the bottom right-hand corner.

However, Stoke, which had already missed through one Crouch header, might have been level before the interval but for some sound goalkeeping from David de Gea.

First, the Spanish stopper showed impressive reflexes to turn Andy Wilkinson’s vicious strike against the woodwork before turning Jonathan Walters’ low shot around the post.

Stoke continued in similar fashion after the restart and was deservedly level seven minutes into the second half. Matthew Etherington delivered a perfect right-wing corner and Crouch was able to expertly work his way in between Jones and Rio Ferdinand to power in the equaliser with a five-yard header.

Two minutes later, Crouch might have put Stoke further in front as he controlled Jermaine Pennant’s pass on his chest and shot goalward, only for De Gea to block his attempt from no more than one yard out.

De Gea’s busy afternoon wasn’t complete and he parried Marc Wilson’s powerful free-kick from the edge of the United area after 68 minutes.

United showed it still possessed the attacking ability to snatch victory with Ashley Young’s shot from just inside the area finding Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic well positioned to save.

But twice, inside the final seven minutes of an enthralling encounter, Crouch might have won the day.

First, he was on the end of yet another excellent Etherington delivery from a corner, this time arriving at the far post and heading just wide before the forward again showed a delicate touch in controlling a pass on his chest and volleying just off target.

The final opening of the day fell to veteran United substitute Ryan Giggs who arrived, at pace, to meet Nani’s cross from the right but volleyed well off target and United was unable to continue its impressive record of having beaten Stoke in all six of their previous Premier League meetings.