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Manchester United Fixtures

Match Review: Stoke City 1-2 Manchester United

If you need to be caught up, the last several days can be summed up in the following sentences:

My, what a week!

Wayne Rooney is a) money-hungry, b) a sniveling Scouser, c) a traitor, d) absolutely right, depending on who you ask.

We had a match yesterday?!

We won away from home in the Premier League?! WOOHOO!

Javier Hernandez = Manchester United legend.

In the craziness of all the Rooney wants to leave/is injured/says he wants to leave/signs a new contract, one could be forgiven if they happened to forget that there was a match yesterday, and an important one at that.

After a week filled with Rooney, Rooney, Rooney in large print, and a Champions League win over Bursaspor that amounted to a mere footnote, United went to the Britannia Stadium yesterday needing a win to break an overall run of three league matches without a win and a season-long run of four away matches without a win. And with Chelsea having beaten Wolves on Saturday, a win at Stoke was needed to keep pace with the leaders and to avoid ending the week as low as sixth in the table.

Moreover, a win at Stoke was needed to prove that Rooney’s presence in the headlines wasn’t a deterrent to the team, and at the same time, that his continued absence (first in form and now physically) isn’t something that can’t be overcome.

And now, a match review, with emoticons and punctuation marks:

Pre-match: ???

Javier Hernandez scores, part one: !!!!!!

Gary Neville, luckiest man in England (well, second luckiest): :O

Tuncay scores for Stoke, invokes memories of Fulham and Everton: : (!

Javier Hernandez scores, part two: 😀 😀 😀 😀

Prior to the match, I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was. It was hard not to be, with how things have been going, and facing a dangerous Stoke side hungry to get over the hump against United, I was feeling more nervous than excited.

Two hours and an expected rollercoaster of emotions later, I was feeling nothing but excitement.

Times like these are when you really learn who’s who, when you learn who has the intestinal fortitude, the moxie, the composure, the goods to be great, to do what it takes to keep the team afloat in a pivotal stretch.

Step right up, Javier Hernandez. I was disappointed when Fergie elected to go with Macheda as the lone striker against Bursaspor instead of giving Chicharito a start after his goal against West Brom, but there’s a reason why he’s the manager and I’m not.

Over the years, many have played for Manchester United, with the talent to succeed but lacking the mental capacity to handle all that comes with it. Thus far, Chicharito looks to be every bit the kind of player who can forge a long career at United. The statistics prove that he knows a thing or two about finding the back of the net — five starts, 10 appearances, five goals – but his eagerness and hunger to succeed, his appreciation for the opportunity to play for Manchester United, his composure in key situations against Valencia a few weeks ago and against Stoke yesterday, those attributes are what have made him an instant impact man at United. And though he does indeed need to be brought along gradually, it’s hard not to want to see him out there every time out.

I won’t go as far as saying ‘who needs Rooney?’, but it sure is nice to be able to turn some attention on a striker who, you know, is actually on the pitch right now. But as for Rooney, he should be on notice that there shouldn’t be any guarantees about his place in the starting XI, even if he’s on some sexy new wages. And with that in mind, I hope both Hernandez and Berbatov are in fine form when Rooney returns, because seeing that could only further bring back his fire and desire, which we need to see.

Also on the selection front, I’m looking forward to when Fergie has a fully fit, or at least close to fully fit, squad at his disposal, because it’s difficult to look at the squad selection from top to bottom and be enthused. In other news, PSV’s Ibrahim Afellay can do the business everywhere (including on the left wing, hint hint), he’s in excellent form right now, he’s available for a low price in January (or free afterwards), he’s only 24, and he’d fancy a move to United. Just throwing that out there.

But as depressing as it is to read the lineup right now, and as frustrating as it is to see some of those selections on the pitch, two wins are two wins, and two wins is exactly what was needed. Neither win this past week was pretty, by any stretch of the imagination. Nani’s goal against Bursaspor? A beauty. Both of Chicharito’s goals against Stoke? The first was a beauty because of its wondrousness, and the second was a beauty because it produced a long-awaited and much-needed away win. Outside of that, there was little else that was pretty, but you won’t find me complaining, not with a serious tone at least.

This past week was one where we needed to see what this team was made of, where we needed to see if battered, bruised, criticized, scrutinized, and distracted, they could rise to the occasion.

I’m proceeding with cautious optimism, because two matches a turnaround does not make, especially with Tottenham coming to Old Trafford this week, visits to City and Aston Villa beckoning in the first half of November, and Chelsea and Arsenal not on the schedule until December. But for us to make it through a stretch that could break many other teams with our heads high and our title aspirations well intact, that could make for a very, very scary last few months for our rivals.