The last Manchester United's supporters saw of Peter Crouch before he disappeared into the tunnel was of him gloatingly clenching his fist towards the away end. Stoke City had waited a long time to get even a solitary point from these opponents – 27 years to be precise. They aspire to some kind of meaningful rivalry with the Old Trafford club and it was an orchestra of celebratory car horns on Sir Stanley Matthews Way.
For United their winning start to the league season is over and they will want to shake it out of their system quickly. They play Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday followed by another home game, against Norwich City, on Saturday. It is, in other words, not the worst time for Wayne Rooney to be missing.
Rooney's diagnosis of the injury he suffered in training on Friday was that he may yet face Basel but not many sportsmen recover from hamstring strains, even mild ones, within four days.
Sir Alex Ferguson said he did not expect Rooney to be involved in at least two matches, which has implications for England's game in Montenegro on Friday week. In the meantime it has been politely pointed out to Rooney it would be better for his wife, Coleen, not to furnish United's opponents with advance team news. Rooney's absence was no particular surprise to Stoke after she announced via Twitter on Friday night that they were at home watching a Beyoncé DVD. The rest of the United team were at their hotel.
Stoke have taken five points from their games against Chelsea, Liverpool and United but their tactic, contrary to popular belief, does not revolve around lumping rudimentary up-and-unders forward. They rely on the delivery of two out-and-out wingers and their determination to win headers and second balls inside the penalty area, with Crouch tall and awkward enough to make a nuisance of himself while at the same time pricking Ferguson's temper on the touchline.
"He fouls all the time," the United manager grizzled. "He gets off with it because of his height but he jumps on top of defenders all the time. He has been doing that for a long time."
Stoke had certainly set out to make it a difficult experience for David de Gea in United's goal although the 20-year-old acquitted himself well, even if he is still learning what it takes to be in control of his penalty area. The goal came from a routine corner and header but most of the fault should be apportioned to Phil Jones for allowing Crouch to elude him.
De Gea is gradually looking more confident and, in turn, his team-mates seem more confident in him. "We showed him plenty of videos and there was a lot of preparation going into the game, showing him what to expect," Darren Fletcher said. "They bombard you with balls into the box, set pieces and corners but he dealt with it well."
With United already missing Nemanja Vidic, Ferguson felt his defence missed the height of Jonny Evans, who hurt a foot in the same Friday session as Rooney and pulled out during the warm-up. Michael Carrick was also injured on Friday – "a nightmare session," Ferguson reflected – and Javier Hernández's early departure means United have nine players either ruled out or doubtful for the Basel match. Even discounting Owen Hargreaves's comments last week, these are challenging times for the club's medical staff.
Hernández suffered a dead leg in the moment of controversy, barely three minutes in, when he ran clear only for Jonathan Woodgate to make a recovering tackle from behind before the goalkeeper Asmir Begovic collided with United's striker from the opposite direction. It was a difficult decision that has divided opinion. Woodgate's outstretched boot did connect with the ball but he also led with a forearm into Hernández's back.
A penalty would have meant a red card and Ferguson's assessment was that the referee, Peter Walton, was reluctant to make such a big decision so early. If true, it does not say much for Walton's officiating, though we will probably never know for certain given that the Premier League policy is for the men in the middle to say little.
In Rooney's absence Nani was United's most penetrative player, his confidence epitomised by the way he waltzed through Stoke's defence to slide a left-foot shot past Begovic for the opening goal. Stoke, though, were the better side in the second half and will reflect on that moment, at 1-1, when Crouch's close-range volley struck an unknowing De Gea and ricocheted over the bar.
United, similarly, will wonder how Ryan Giggs could be so wasteful when presented with a late chance to extend United's winning run to six league matches and put them back on course to equal or beat Ron Atkinson's record from the 1985-86 campaign.
There are not many things Atkinson has over Ferguson but the team of Whiteside, McGrath, Robson et al won their first 10 league games that season. All very impressive until one considers they won only nine of the last 27 and finished fourth. The current team, one suspects, will have greater staying power.
Thun 1 Basel 1 The former Switzerland striker Marco Streller scored with Basel more concerned about United on Tuesday
United's mounting casualty list
Nine Manchester United players are doubtful or injured for Tuesday's match at home to Basel
Out Tom Cleverley, ankle; Rafael da Silva, shoulder; Darron Gibson, ankle; Nemanja Vidic, calf
Doubtful Michael Carrick, unknown; Jonny Evans, foot; Javier Hernández, dead leg; Wayne Rooney, hamstring; Chris Smalling, groin