In a season rife with disappointing results and performances, perhaps it makes perfect sense that the Mata-factor lasted all of one routine victory against the Premier League’s bottom side. United, even with their prized attacking assets couldn’t find a way past a stubborn Stoke defence, falling to two Charlie Adam strikes and an eight defeat of this Premier League season at a blustery Britannia Stadium. On a weekend where United could end up nine points away from fourth place, this was exactly what David Moyes had hoped to avoid, yet he seemed powerless to stop it.
Jonny Evans had stated in midweek that it was all well and good talking about going on a run after a morale-boosting victory yet it was useless chatter if more victories failed to materialise. As the Northern Irishman left the pitch in the early going after picking up an injury, you couldn’t help but wonder how prophetic the centre-back was being as United once again struggled to find momentum. The first half was highly limited, with Wayne Rooney firing Patrice Evra’s cross wide and Peter Crouch failing to connect with a cross after a Phil Jones error. Still, United were looking the better side when Adam fired Stoke into the lead. His free-kick took an almighty deflection off Michael Carrick’s leg, leading David De Gea stranded.
A nasty clash of heads left Jones on the ground and needing extensive treatment, leaving United with plenty of time to mull over the deficit and attempt to stitch a back four together, with Michael Carrick asked to slot in in Jones’ absence. they were unable to muster a response before the belated half-time break, but started the second half much brighter. Glenn Whelan’s poor clearance landed at Mata’s feet, and Spanaird played in Robin Van Persie to apply the finishing touches. It felt significant, a moment of quick-thinking class that could jolt the visitors into action after another unconvincing display.
Apparently, all it did was exacerbate Adam, with the Scot firing in beautifully from the left hand side of goal into the roof of the net with De Gea helpless. Almost forty minutes remained for United to salvage a result, but even with sixty percent of the possession, chances were few and far between. Plenty of crosses were thrown at the hosts, despite their aerial presence, and United occasionally steamed down the left flank only to see each pull back fail, either too short or fluffed. It came as little surprise that Stoke created the more notable openings as they looked a threat on the break, Oussama Assaidi coming close with a powerful strike that De Gea tipped over.
It came as little surprise to see United fail to bombard the home defence with time ticking down and needing a goal (ideally two). Rooney saw his curling free-kick strike the post thanks to Asmir Begovic’s fingertips and Tom Cleverley fired over from the resulting scramble, but the reality was that Stoke were able to hold on without too much to worry about. They didn’t look like a team that had taken one point from their previous six games, and Mark Hughes must hope that this level of commitment and focus wasn’t temporary. His counterpart, on the other hand, cut a far more dejected figure.
Moyes rued his team’s bad luck after yet another damaging loss, but two defensive injuries and swirling winds couldn’t disguise underwhelming substitutions and the same incredible lack of drive and intensity sorely missing in so many performances this season. It’s an issue the Scot doesn’t appear to be able to address, and the longer it continues, you must wonder if the time he has left in the Old Trafford hotset will decrease with it.