Stoke 0-2 Man Utd

Ryan Giggs demonstrated why he is held in such high regard by Manchester United as the midfield veteran produced two assists to help his side to a 2-0 win at Stoke.

Dimitar Berbatov and John O'Shea scored the second-half goals at the Britannia Stadium, but the plaudits all went to Giggs as the age-defying 35-year-old justified recent praise from boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

United dominated the first half, as Paul Scholes dictated midfield, and should have taken the lead, but Antonio Valencia missed the target horribly when one-on-one with Thomas Sorensen.

The trend continued after half-time as United were forced to be patient, however, Giggs' introduction from the bench proved the turning point as the Welshman demonstrated the passing skills which have been hailed by Ferguson.

In the 62nd minute Giggs, who used to terrorise defences with his pace before reinventing his style, kept his cool to provide a simple tap-in for Berbatov after showing excellent awareness to roll across the face of Stoke's goal.

Giggs then assisted again on 77 minutes as a beautiful free-kick picked out the head of O'Shea to send United top of the Premier League on goal difference after Chelsea lost at Wigan.

For 55 minutes, Nani occupied the left-wing berth Giggs has filled for so long but brought only groans and growls of frustration from exasperated team-mates as United failed to make the most of their dominance.

After following the trail blazed by Cristiano Ronaldo four years earlier by leaving Sporting Lisbon for Old Trafford in 2007, Nani enjoyed a productive first season under Ferguson's tutelage.

Unfortunately, the Portugal international seemed to stagnate last term, to such an extent there was a wide body of opinion he would be released should a suitable buyer be found.

Nani himself felt he was capable of filling Ronaldo's immense shoes, although no-one truly believed he would get the chance until deadline-day came and went with Ferguson sticking to his word not to buy anyone else.

It is true that Nani possesses the pace and balance of his compatriot. Unfortunately, the marked difference is in the final ball, or sometimes the decision.

A cross might go to the far post when it should have been the near, or he might decide to shoot instead of playing a more obvious pass to someone in a better position.

In both instances, Rooney missed out.

Even with the Britannia Stadium at its most raucous, Rooney's bellows of frustration cannot have been missed.

As he stood alone and watched Nani's shot sail high over the crossbar, the in-form England star beat the ground in frustration before delivering a volley of abuse that finally turned to a despairing plea.

Nani did bring a smart save out of Sorensen close to half-time but unless he finds some consistency, Ferguson will eventually search for someone better.

All of this would have been irrelevant if Nani's wing partner, Valencia, had snaffled the golden opportunity that came his way after just nine minutes of a one-sided opening period.

There was a fear when Ferguson made Valencia his top-price, 17million summer buy that the Ecuadorian might not prove the most clinical finisher.

So far, he has had very little chance to either disprove or solidify that theory.

It finally arrived when he burst past former United Academy graduate Ryan Shawcross and bore down on Sorensen's goal.

Valencia never looked entirely comfortable, a fact borne out by the finish, a disappointing chip that bounced harmlessly wide.

Not that Stoke were able to take advantage as the game took on a similar pattern after half-time, although in Nani's case that was enough to herald the arrival of Giggs.

It hardly needs saying that Giggs' experience provides a calmness in possession that the man he replaced so sadly lacks.

After eulogising so often about the Welshman during their 17 years together at the top, Ferguson admitted on Friday that he had run out of things to say about a man who will celebrate his 36th birthday in November.

Instead these days it is enough to watch. And if he wants to learn, Nani should have been focused intently on Giggs just after the hour mark when he advanced onto Darren Fletcher's pass then, with no hesitation, rolled a pass straight into the path of Berbatov, who could not miss.

The Bulgarian's acknowledgement as he ran towards his team-mate showed what he felt.

Thirteen minutes from time, O'Shea was racing towards Giggs in similar fashion after he had leapt highest to guide a curling free-kick into the far corner.

After creating those chances for others, it would have been nice if Giggs could have taken the one provided by Scholes' through ball.

Instead, with entry into United's exclusive 150 club and a 100th goal in the Premier League waiting, Giggs fired over.

Source: Sky Sports
Date Published: 26 September 2009