Van Persie's goal brings title closer for Man Utd

Posted by Mark Payne

Robin van Persie doubles Manchester United's advantage from the penalty spotGettyImagesRobin van Persie doubles Man Utd's advantage from the penalty spot

A noisy Britannia Stadium saw Manchester United shake off the cobwebs and plunder a deserved 2-0 victory over Stoke. Wayne Rooney conducted events from the centre and Robin van Persie ended his goal drought as United took the foil off the championship champagne. Stoke were uninspired and remain in peril at the bottom.

Things couldn't have started any better for United. At the first corner, Stoke players outnumbered United players in the box, but the ball bobbled around horribly and Michael Carrick poked it home. Stoke had numerous chances to clear but didn't take them and only had themselves to blame.

- Whittaker: Stoke getting left behind
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- Van Persie relieved to end goal drought

The Potters looked like they downed tools a bit after that blow. They allowed United to play their game and for the first time in over a month the league leaders looked like they belonged there. It was a period that saw United play some of their best stuff for a while, but they still lacked a cutting edge.

United have been very incoherent recently, their leading goal scorer of late is "own goal" and this was probably why Sir Alex Ferguson started with Javier Hernandez, van Persie and Rooney.

Englishman Rooney used the lineup to audition for a role in central midfield. Many of his passes were magnificent, a couple were awful. He needs to eradicate the latter type before he is ready to play against a better side in that position.

After half an hour, United had not taken advantage of their possession and Stoke started to perk up. It was at that point Hernandez raised his boot in the penalty area and drew blood from Andy Wilkinson's head. Chicharito, thanks to his scoring record against Stoke, is not popular with the Potters' defence, anyway. Even less so after that.

That kick to Wilkinson seemed to rouse the beast and Stoke started to make inroads up front. Their relentless tactic is to hoof the ball up in the air whenever they get it, but with the wind behind them, it did allow them to make progress toward David de Gea's goal. United's failure to score again started to look ominous.

The second half resembled a more old-fashioned affair. The ball was played out to the wings more and Stoke's penchant for the rigorous tackle became more obvious. United gave as good as they got, but it hampered any creativity. Rooney continued to play some terrific, sweeping balls but more often than not "push and shove" were more prominent than "pass and move."

It was no surprise when Stoke conceded a penalty. Wilkinson cynically tripped van Persie after Rooney's pass had dissected the defence. The Dutchman picked up the ball and faced down a 10-match goal-less streak, the biting wind and the nerves of the United fans.

To say he was pleased when he scored would be an understatement. He ran to the United bench and hugged Fergie, high-fiving the rest of the team on the way back. Everyone knew what an important goal it was. It was the moment when United regained their grip on the Premier League trophy.

Although not without flaws, Rooney's performance alongside Carrick in the middle was key to this victory. If rumours of United's interest in Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao have substance, he may have to get used to playing there. The England man's ability to influence goals, and match outcomes, seems to be unaffected by the change. United need seven points for the title.

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