United edge closer to title with Stoke win

Everything falling into place for Ferguson as van Persie rediscovers scoring touch from the spot

 Michael Carrick of Manchester United scores against Stoke City  at the Britannia Stadium. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Michael Carrick of Manchester United scores against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

 

This was just about the perfect day for Manchester United. Alex Ferguson's side cruised to a comfortable victory over Stoke City that saw Robin van Persie end his goal drought with a penalty that was followed by a bear hug for his manager.

Van Persie's goal was his first in 751 minutes of football, stretching back more than two months, and put United in a commanding position after Michael Carrick had earlier registered his first of the season. The way in which Van Persie celebrated, running to the touchline to embrace Ferguson before high-fiving those on the United bench, provided a measure of how much the goal meant to the Dutchman.

There was no way back for a Stoke side who played with greater passion than they showed against Aston Villa last Saturday but never really looked like ending their miserable run of results. They have won only one of their past 14 league games and picked up just one point out of a possible 21. With Sunderland winning at Newcastle earlier in the day, Stoke have dropped to 16th and are three points above the relegation zone, having played two games more than Wigan.

Behind as early as the fourth minute, Stoke could not have got off to a worse start. The fact the concession came via a set piece – the area where Stoke expect to be causing opponents problems – rubbed salt into the wound.

Van Persie's inswinging corner was touched on by Kenwyne Jones and, after Geoff Cameron blocked Phil Jones's acrobatic attempt to hook home, Carrick reacted quickest, toe-poking the ball, from the edge of the six-yard box, in off the post.

With Wayne Rooney revelling in his role as a central midfielder alongside Carrick, United were dominant for the first half hour without creating too many chances. Rooney had a 25-yard strike beaten away by Asmir Begovic, after a long period of United possession, and Van Persie, running on to a threaded pass from the England international, tested the Stoke keeper at his near post but there was little else to get excited about.

As for Stoke, although they improved as the game went on, the only opportunity of note they created in the opening 45 minutes fell to Robert Huth, who should have done better with a header, from Glenn Whelan's free-kick, that flashed wide of the upright. Another half-chance fell to Jon Walters early in the second half but the forward, playing wide on the left here, blazed over from the corner of the six-yard box.

By that point United should have doubled their lead. Rooney picked out Javier Hernández with a raking diagonal pass that held up in the wind and the Mexican fed Van Persie with a perfectly weighted pass. Van Persie, though, snatched at the chance, crashing the ball into the side-netting.

He was less forgiving 14 minutes later. Picked out by Rooney, Van Persie had his feet swept from under him by Andy Wilkinson, leaving Jonathan Moss, the referee, with the straightforward decision to point to the spot.

Begovic guessed the right way but Van Persie's kick was too close to the corner.