Stoke ends Man United’s perfect start with draw

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

had to leave prolific forward Wayne Rooney out of his squad with a

hamstring problem.

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.

”It is not easy with the changes,” Ferguson said. ”With

Chicharito (Hernandez) you get penetration and speed, that was a

loss. With Jonny, he got an ankle injury yesterday, we had a

nightmare training session with (Michael) Carrick, Rooney and Evans

(getting injured).

”But I was pleased with the performance of the lads. They

played like real champions in every sense and battled hard. They

weren’t cowed by them so we are quite pleased.”

Ferguson was far less complimentary about the 6-foot-7-inch

Crouch.

”Crouch fouls all the time, he gets huffy but he jumps on top

of defenders all the time,” Ferguson said. ”He has been doing

that for years, referees know that. He maybe caught Phil Jones for

the goal but he is a definitely a handful in the air.”

Replays suggested Hernandez was unlucky not to get a penalty

before he limped off 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 equalizer with a five-yard header.

”It’s always nice to get your first goal for a new club and

against Manchester United it is really pleasing,” Crouch said.

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.