Man Utd 2-1 Stoke City

Javier Hernandez and Nani were on target as Manchester United survived a Stoke fightback to go three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Red Devils dominated the opening period and Dimitar Berbatov went close before Hernandez slotted home from close range on 27 minutes from Nani's cross.

Ryan Giggs put a free-kick just over as United failed to extend the lead before half-time and were then made to pay as Dean Whiteheadpulled the Potters level five minutes after the re-start when heading home Tuncay Sanli's cross.

But Nani won it with a sublime finish from the edge of the box on 62 minutes after playing a one-two with Hernandez.

The deserved win made it 20 games unbeaten in the league this season for United, who opened up a lead of three points over Manchester City and five on Arsenal ahead of their meeting at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Hernandez scored a jaw-dropping back header against the Potters at the Britannia in October and his effort at Old Trafford was no less audacious.

Nipping in front of former United defender Ryan Shawcross at the near post, Hernandez reacted quickly as Nani drilled over a low cross.

Letting the ball run behind him, he quickly flicked back his right leg and turned it at right angles, into a goal that Asmir Begovic thought he had covered.

It was Hernandez's ninth goal of the season and his second in four days.

Little wonder Sir Alex Ferguson had enough faith in the striker not to worry too much about the absence of Wayne Rooney, who, having suffered an ankle injury last time, watched on from an executive suite in the company of Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones.

Rio Ferdinand was missing too, rested ahead of Sunday's FA Cup tie with Liverpool, which allowed Chris Smalling to make his first league start for the Red Devils.

Not that the England Under 21 defender had that much to do as United dominated proceedings without carving out too many clear-cut opportunities.

Berbatov had one after Giggs' shot deflected into his path off Shawcross. Although the Bulgarian controlled brilliantly, under pressure from Marc Wilson, he then prodded wide rather than into the same corner Hernandez found shortly afterwards.

The overwhelming feeling at half-time was of the hosts once again scraping by without really exuding any of the class expected.

And five minutes after the restart they were pegged back as Whitehead nipped between Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra to nod home Tuncay's cross unchallenged.

It was the centre-piece of a period of genuine Stoke pressure and brought the Potteries outfit their first Old Trafford goal since 1980.

And, for while, a nervousness and anxiety betrayed United's play.

Berbatov ranted at Nani for not passing to him quickly enough as another home attack broke down in its infancy.

Yet if their actual play leaves many doubters unconvinced about their actual merits in comparison to Ferguson teams of old, the Red Devils' durability cannot be questioned.

And when Danny Collins failed to get tight to Nani as he collected Hernandez's return pass on the edge of the area, the Portugal winger took one touch before finding the bottom corner with a precise curling shot.

United, who introduced Michael Owen late on for his first appearance of the winter, then closed out the match to maintain their unbeaten record and make it 19 points out of the last 21.

Source: Sky Sports
Date Published: 5 January 2011