Manchester United stumbled to a 1-1 draw with bottom side Stoke City on a cold night in Altrincham.
Stoke, with just one win from 8 matches and a -26 goal difference started several established senior team players in their line up including former Wigan and Spurs midfielder Wilson Palacious. United, in the familiar 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid started Vermijl, Wootton, Fornasier and McGinty across the back four, with Larnell Cole, Thorpe, Tunnicliffe, Powell and Adnan Januzaj in behind Kiko Macheda.
The reds were behind inside 5 minutes as a disastrous attempted clearance from Michele Fornasier hit Stoke’s Jamie Ness and landed at the feet of James Alabi who slotted neatly past Johnstone.
Stoke’s physical long-ball approach to the beautiful game permeates all levels of their club, and United therefore spent much of the rest of the first half fighting an aerial battle with their lanky counterparts. The football from both sides was, for the large part, poor and forgettable though United did at least attempt to string a few passing moves together, coming unstuck just outside Stoke’s box as they closed ranks. Macheda had little luck as a lone front man, often being forced wide or losing possession rather than effectively holding the ball up to allow his midfield to catch up. As usual, once he lost a few tussles for the ball, he began to look sullen and sulky, and his effort levels dropped, preferring instead to appeal to the ref (who was Japanese and apparently on loan from the J League..) than fight to regain possession.
Warren Joyce’s men were able to equalise just before half time however, as a superb solo jinking run from Nick Powell though 3 Stoke defenders allowed him to poke the ball past Wes Brown look-a-like Dale Eve. While I continue to regard Powell as an unnecessarily selfish player at u21 level, moments like this do go some way to justifying the enormous levels of self belief he has.
The second half may well be one of the most forgettable halves of football i’ve ever seen. Neither team seemed keen to manufacture, or attempt to manufacture any kind of goal-scoring opportunity, with what little goal-mouth action there was coming from mis-kicks and deflections. Powell had a couple of long shots, and Macheda had a speculative appeal for a penalty turned down but the game fizzled out like the firework display that had engulfed the entire pitch in smoke.
The draw leaves United in second spot with 15 points from 8 games, just two points behind Spurs who have played one game more.