Manchester United slumped to a 2-1 loss at Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday to puncture the optimism generated by Juan Mata's arrival.
Stoke City deflate Manchester United’s optimism
STOKE CITY 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 1
Stoke City - Adam 38’, 52’
Manchester United - Van Persie 47’
Man of the Match - Charlie Adam (Stoke City)
Stoke // Manchester United suffered a huge setback on Saturday night to their top-four hopes as they lost to Stoke City in a match that also saw Phil Jones lose consciousness following a clash of heads with Jonathan Walters.
Jones was taken to hospital following the first-half incident, although he was able to return to the ground and link up with the rest of his teammates after United’s 2-1 defeat.
“Phil is OK,” said David Moyes, the United manager. “He has been checked at the hospital. He was out for a little while. I saw him falling back and his head going back on the grass. He got up but when we went to treat him he lost consciousness for a while.
“The medical team did all the right things. They got him to hospital but he is fine. It looks like concussion. He should be OK.”
Jones’s exit followed that of central defensive partner Jonny Evans, who suffered a calf injury as the bad luck that has dogged Moyes throughout his short time at Old Trafford surfaced again.
Even the details of a first ever Premier League defeat to Stoke, and a first loss at the Britannia Stadium, showed how ill fortune has attached itself to the Scot given Charlie Adam’s opener came courtesy of a massive deflection off Michael Carrick.
Robin van Persie equalised early in the second half, only for Adam to seal victory with an exquisite 20-yard strike.
“I thought we were the better team,” Moyes said. “We got to the byline eight, nine, 10 times but the ball back never picked someone out in the box. That was our undoing. In the end we lose to a free kick from 30 yards with a massive deflection and a worldly [a world-class strike].”
The result deals a massive blow to United’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Uefa Champions League.
If Liverpool beat West Bromwich Albion today, Moyes’s team will be nine points adrift of fourth spot and seemingly incapable of stringing the results together required to force their way up the table.
They have now lost eight times in the league this season.
After West Brom, Everton and Newcastle United all broke long sequences without winning at Old Trafford, Stoke have now done it on home soil against United.
The last time they defeated United in a league game was on Boxing Day 1984, so long ago the match was played at the Victoria Ground and current Stoke manager Mark Hughes was a 20-year-old striker for United.
“I can’t remember that one,” said the Welshman. “The one I do remember was in the League Cup [in 1993]. I lost at the Victoria Ground, which tells you how long ago that was. I was at fault for one of the goals.”
The latest success was more remarkable for the fact Stoke had fallen into the bottom three before kick off, only to take a massive leap out.
“At the start of proceedings we were in the relegation zone,” Hughes said. “We have ended up 11th. That tells you how crazy the league is at the moment.”
It was debatable whether Adam’s long-range free kick for the opener was even on target when it struck Carrick on the edge of the box.
Once it had, David de Gea had no chance of keeping it out and the ball rocketed into the far corner, leaving the United keeper stranded. At times like that, Moyes must feel cursed.
Yet, it had to be said, his team were not exactly dominating their opponents, with Juan Mata a largely peripheral figure and neither Wayne Rooney nor Van Persie threatening with any regularity.
Van Persie came close once, with a close-range header that rebounded over off Glenn Whelan.
Rooney had a couple of long-range efforts but with his team struggling to cope with the conditions, it was a surprise Danny Welbeck was introduced for Jones, given Antonio Valencia would have allowed Mata to move into a central position, or Darren Fletcher would have kept Rooney in an attacking one.
It took just two second-half minutes for Mata and Van Persie to show what they are capable of.
Marc Wilson’s poor clearance from inside his own box offered Mata the chance to turn a perfectly-weighted pass to Van Persie, who lifted a first-time effort over Asmir Begovic and into the corner.
It was the Dutchman’s sixth goal in seven Premier League games, split by a thigh injury – and a period in which United’s limitations were laid bare.
And so they were again shortly afterwards. For barely had United time to reflect on parity than they were behind again, with Adam once again the scorer.
This time there was no fortune either as he let fly following a blocked Marko Arnautovic shot, sending his 25-yard strike arrowing into the corner.
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