Wayne Rooney scored his first league goals of the season as Manchester United recovered from another faltering start, writes Andy Mitten.
Manchester United 4 Stoke City 2
Rooney's "hat-trick" was not exactly what he would have liked - he headed an own-goal for Stoke's opener - but two strikes came courtesy of Robin van Persie crosses as the strikers both played up front in a 4-4-2 formation.
United will be a stronger side if Rooney and Van Persie can click, as Sir Alex Ferguson said: "We've got flexible movement up front and that bothers teams. Rooney and Van Persie are starting to gel."
Ferguson praised Stoke's "strong and aggressive" style pre-match, adding "you have to handle whatever is thrown at you."
With a record of seven wins and a draw from his eight games against Stoke manager Tony Pulis, Ferguson could afford to be magnanimous.
He may be less gracious with Rio Ferdinand after the United defender made good on his threat to refuse to wear a "Kick It Out" racisim T-shirt in the warm-up, the only United player to do so.
"I'm disappointed Rio didn't wear it," said Ferguson. "Every player in the country should have adhered to the PFA request. He's gone and let us down. We'll deal with it, don't worry about that."
Rooney scored his first after 10 minutes. Unfortunately for the United striker, who turns 27 on Wednesday, he headed in a Charlie Adam free kick - awarded after a clumsy Paul Scholes challenge - into his own net.
It was not Scholes's only poor challenge of the game, nor was it the first time United have fallen behind in a match this season, having now had to claw back a goal deficit in seven of their 11 games.
"We keep starting badly and we are giving ourselves an uphill flight but there is a goal threat about us," said Ferguson. "The forwards are digging ourselves out of a hole."
Stoke, chasing a first away win of the season and a first win at Old Trafford since 1976, could not manage the same, despite a Jon Walters effort being well saved in the 19th minute. Fourteen minutes after his opener, Rooney scored another header, this time for his own side as he converted a Van Persie cross.
United pushed on, a curling Danny Welbeck shot grazed the crossbar after 39 minutes, before Van Persie gave United the lead, turning in a 44th minute Antonio Valencia cross. Welbeck then dived to meet a Rooney centre from the right just 40 seconds after the break.
Stoke were not finished. In the 58th minute, Michael Kightly picked up the ball near the halfway line and ran directly towards the United goal, evading limp challenges from Michael Carrick and Ferdinand before shooting past David de Gea.
The 2,000 noisy travelling fans broke into their Delilah anthem, but their side were soon 4-2 down, Rooney again the scorer with a 64-th minute tap-in, Van Persie again the provider. It was Rooney's 200th club goal in professional football.
"The more games he plays the better he becomes," said Ferguson. "That's two which has got him off the mark for us."
Stoke introduced former United striker Michael Owen to warm applause from all fans in the 73rd minute, but neither he nor the United substitute, Javier Hernandez, could add to the six goals.
"We played well in the first half and I was disappointed that we came in 2-1 down," said Pulis. "The third goal just after half time knocked the stuffing out of us. United have great players, players who can change a game with a pass."
United stay four points behind leaders Chelsea in second, level on 18 points with Manchester City.
Ferguson's side can reduce the gap next week at Stamford Bridge, but with both sides scoring four and conceding two yesterday - Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur away - goals seem the only guarantee.
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