David Moyes was left scratching his head and cursing his luck as Manchester United crashed to their fifth defeat of the calendar year and their eighth in the league this season by losing at Stoke for the first time in the Premier League era.
Even with Juan Mata, United are now looking distinctly unlikely to claim a Champions League spot this season – should Liverpool win at West Bromwich this afternoon they will open up a nine-point gap to fourth place – yet Moyes insisted the better team lost 2-1 at the Britannia. “I thought the performance was good, we were just really unlucky,” the beleaguered United manager said.
“We created numerous opportunities, we must have got to the byline eight or nine times, and then we lost to a massive deflection and a world-class strike from nowhere. It was our own fault we didn’t take our chances, we contributed to our own downfall there, but I felt there was not an awful lot we didn’t do well.”
Stoke supporters will take issue with much of that, pointing out that the visitors were never that superior and the best chance for either side to add to the scoring actually fell to the home substitute Oussama Assaidi, though there will be some sympathy for Moyes over the bad luck he suffered with injuries.
After Jonny Evans limped off on 10 minutes with a hamstring strain, United were unfortunate enough to lose a second centre-half when Phil Jones was concussed before half-time.
They ended up with Michael Carrick playing in the back four and Wayne Rooney pulled back into midfield, which was not the original plan for the first time Rooney, Mata and Robin van Persie started a game together.
“Phil was out cold for a little while but he was checked over in hospital and seems to be OK,” Moyes said.
Stoke began the game in the bottom three but ended it 11th in the table, which, as Mark Hughes observed, shows just how crazy the Premier League is at the moment. “At least we are looking upwards at last,” the Stoke manager said.
“That was pretty much United’s strongest side, and we had a tough battle with 10 men at Sunderland in the week, so it is a huge result for us. Hopefully it will be a key moment of our season if we are able to build on it.”
Charlie Adam confirmed he intends to claim the dubious first goal as well as the glorious second, and described Stoke’s win as a massive boost for a side being dragged into the relegation battle. “Manchester United have quality all over but we were excellent,” Adam said. “We nullified them.”
Written by Steve Milne