Manchester United 2 Stoke 0
Manchester United made light of their chronic injury list to turn up the heat in the Barclays Premier League title race by overcoming a subdued Stoke outfit at Old Trafford.
A penalty in each half, from Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov, was enough to turn the game into a victory cruise for Alex Ferguson’s team.
Much stiffer challenges lay ahead in the form of their next two opponents, Chelsea and Liverpool.
However, considering he was without 11 senior players this evening, including both first-choice keepers, Ferguson will have been delighted to end the evening in better shape that they started it.
The Scot must dread every day that he has to name a team just now.
For once, the United manager was completely accurate with the state of his injuries on Saturday when, in the wake of that FA Cup defeat to Liverpool, he said only Rio Ferdinand was expected to be available of those already walking wounded.
What Ferguson could not have envisaged was that within 48 hours, his goalkeeping ranks would be ravaged as well.
Anders Lindegaard suffered what is thought to be a serious ankle injury in training, prior to which, David de Gea had gone home poorly.
De Gea had recovered enough to take his place in the stands this evening.
However, after recent nervous displays, it perhaps was not a bad thing that he sat out this test of his mettle, even if 21-year-old replacement Ben Amos was making his Premier League bow.
As it turned out, the Macclesfield-born youngster had relatively little to do, other than watch a couple of shots fly wide.
The problems were further forward, where Antonio Valencia seemed to be the only plausible way of breaking Stoke down with both Nani and Ashley Young on the sick list as well as Wayne Rooney.
Valencia is in top form at the moment but he needed help, which took a little while in arriving.
At 37 and fresh out of retirement, Paul Scholes was being asked to start his second game in four days.
The veteran midfielder came close to breaking the deadlock with a shot that flicked wide off Wilson Palacios.
Michael Carrick got caught in two minds as he raced onto Dimitar Berbatov’s lay-off and rolled a cross-shot wide of the far-post.
It looked like being a long evening until Park raced onto a short pass from Scholes and drew a reckless tackle from Jermaine Pennant.
Despite the Stoke protests, TV replays showed the former Liverpool man had fouled Park and, quick to take the responsibility, Hernandez found the bottom corner with a nerveless effort from the spot, sending Thomas Sorensen the wrong way.
Robert Huth got away with handling Hernandez’s cross just before the break but seven minutes after the restart, United were awarded a second spot-kick when Jon Walters bundled Valencia over.
Despite the clinical nature of Hernandez’s previous effort, this time Berbatov assumed the responsibility.
The pressure was on but the Bulgarian delivered the goods, beating Sorensen with a shot to the bottom corner as the Dane went the right way.
Without an Old Trafford win since 1976, the meek manner of Stoke’s performance was totally at odds with their normal displays.
Tony Pulis showed his displeasure by replacing Crouch with Cameron Jerome and it wasn’t long before the substitute brought a decent save out of Amos, although the fact he needed two attempts to smother suggested Stoke may have got some reward had they been able to put him under concerted pressure.
It wasn’t happening though and Ferguson felt sufficiently emboldened to hand Paul Pogba his Premier League bow.
On the day Ravel Morrison joined West Ham, it was a telling gesture.
Although he has not had any of Morrison’s many off-field problems to distract him, the 18-year-old is also wavering over signing a new contract.
Losing one player of promise is forgivable, for a second to leave in the summer would be very bad news for the Red Devils.
Pogba settled nicely too, catching the eye with one neat piece of skill that created a crossing opportunity before having a first-time shot blocked by Wilkinson.
The champions should have given the score an even rosier glow when Berbatov prodded Valencia’s cut-back wide in stoppage time.