Fergie almost knocked over in van Persie’s flood of relief

Stoke City 0 Manchester United 2

But for a title-challenging side, Robin van Persie’s 12 hour 31 minute, 10-game barren spell proved to be a worry for Alex Ferguson.

No wonder the Dutchman celebrated with such an overwhelming outpouring of emotion when he converted a 67th-minute spot kick to score his 25th goal for Manchester United and first since February 10.

“He nearly killed me,” joked Ferguson afterwards following van Persie’s run towards him. “He forgets I’m 71. It was a great celebration as it brought the emotion of the players and the fans together. We really did celebrate that.”

Van Persie’s clincher followed on from Michael Carrick’s fourth-minute opener as United won a fairly routine game to go 15 points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table.

They could even mathematically wrap up a 13th Premier League under Ferguson next weekend, depending on City’s next two results.

But despite being in so much control of this contest, Ferguson still believed it was a banana skin thanks to the blustery conditions.

“The players were fantastic,” said Ferguson.

“There was all the ingredients for a shock. It was windy and the ball was moving through the wind. And it’s never easy to come here anyway.

“The players deserve all the credit for the battling performance they gave.”

Ferguson played Wayne Rooney in central midfield because he thought the England star was lacking in confidence.

“Wayne was brilliant,” said Ferguson. “I was thinking he possibly needed a different role in terms of getting his confidence back.

“He has been under a bit of criticism, not serious, but there were some doubters nonetheless.

“He’s a fantastic player and our job is to get that confidence and form back. I thought a spell in midfield would do him the world of good and it worked for us.”

While United can look forward to clinching the title, it is a far bleaker picture for Stoke, who have won just once in 2013, and are in a relegation battle.

It was the worst possible start for the Potters as van Persie swung in a corner and poor defending allowed Carrick to scramble home only his second goal of the campaign.

Carrick went close again from another Rooney corner while van Persie saw his shot from the edge of the area beaten away by Asmir Begovic.

Stoke, with a second-half wind advantage, looked a much better side after the break and could have levelled if Republic of Ireland striker Jonathan Walters had shown more composure and not blazed over after Ryan Shotton had headed down Steven Nzonzi’s cross.

Stoke grew in confidence with Charlie Adam, making his first start since January, twice going close with long-range efforts.

But just as it looked as if Tony Pulis’s side could find a way back into the game, United shut the door, Rooney’s delightful pass picking out van Persie who was felled by Andy Wilkinson.

Van Persie showed great composure, despite the wind forcing him to replace the ball on the spot, with a low and hard finish that had Begovic well beaten.

Stoke brought on former Manchester United player Michael Owen for a brief, unsuccessful cameo as the visitors kept possession to comfortably saw out the remainder of the game.

With no more games against the top four to come, Pulis looked ahead to the rest of the season optimistically, but he knows his side have a tough task to stay in the Premier League for a sixth consecutive season.

“I’ve spoken to the players and it is now a five -game season,” he said. “There are eight or nine teams in the scrap and the season starts for us now.

“I think 40 points — or two wins — does it.

“We have good players but just need a break. We just have not got the breaks but the most important thing is to stay nice and positive.

“The first goal killed us. It was a poor goal to concede and then the second goal came when the game was tight.

“The positive we can take is we don’t have to play Manchester United again.”

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