Call this a preamble? Afternoon all. £1,190 an hour? Not bad work if you can get it. He's not playing today but Wayne Rooney still casts a giant shadow over affairs at Manchester United (which is quite disturbing if you think about it too literally). The Biggest Club In The World? goes to the archetypal Difficult Place To Go? needing to shake off all the off-field issues and pick up a few points - defeat today and Chelsea are already heading off over the horizon.
Stoke: Sorensen, Huth, Shawcross, Faye, Collins, Pennant, Wilson, Delap, Etherington, Walters, Jones. Subs: Begovic, Higginbotham, Whelan, Gudjohnsen, Pugh, Tuncay, Wilkinson.Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, O'Shea, Scholes, Nani, Hernandez, Berbatov. Subs: Kuszczak, Brown, Smalling, Carrick, Obertan, Macheda, Gibson.Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)
Pre-match email dept.
"I'm not a Man U fan but I think its fair enough to point out that they are still undefeated this season in the league," writes John Goldstein.
"Has anyone asked Wayne Rooney yet how he feels about holding out for a 100% pay increase when so many people in Manchester will be losing their jobs soon?" writes Neil Stainthorpe.
And another: "With Van Der Sar in his retirement season - and given his clangers recently - I'm surprised Fergie doesn't trust Kuszczak to step up to the plate," writes Scott W. "He's alright, innee? No Almunia/Green/Carson-style clangers to speak of, is there?" Not likely to happen any time soon ? Van der Sar is one of only two United players to start every Premier League game this season. The other is Nemanja Vidic. Stoke, by way of contrast, have five ever-presents - Sorensen, Huth, Shawcross, Whitehead and Etherington.
Click-clack, click-clack - the players are in the tunnel.
Peep! And we're off. Stoke, kicking from right to left, get things going in the traditional style.
1 min: O'Shea has slotted in at left-back, with Evra on the left side of midfield.
2 min: Huth muscles Hernandez off the ball, but his lump forward is aimless.
3 min: "For those of us who see the Rooney 'leaving' episode as just a theatrical way of negotiating a massive pay rise, maybe the rot set in with Vidic last season," writes Graham Sheriff. "It seems the way to boost your pay packet at Old Trafford is to refuse to play for the team any more. It's surprising SAF doesn't play hardball and call these players' bluff. Oh, and if Rooney wants Man Utd to spend money on new players at a time when the club's finances are so tight, why extort an extra £6m a year?"
4 min: Walters gets clear down the right, but Van der Sar plucks his cross out of the air, with Kenwyne Jones closing in. A few seconds later the former Ipswich forward (who never particularly stood out at Portman Road to me) skews a shot wide.
5 min: Berbatov almost gets on the end of Fletcher's through-ball, but Sorensen is quickly off his line to block. Sounds like a great atmosphere at the Britannia.
6 min: Pennant's turn to get a little space on the wing - his cross is blocked but that's the second time that City have earned a bit of room on the flanks. Corner ?
7 min: - cleared and United break, three on two. Berbatov finds Nani, Nani finds Hernandez at the back stick, but inexplicably he tries to find Berbatov once more with his nod down. That was a chance.
9 min: "'Stoke ... get things going in the traditional style' - as opposed to how?" ponders Robin Hazlehurst. "The modernist style? The neo-classical style? I'd quite like that, the centre-forward having to declaim at the ball his intentions for the match, and getting a yellow card if he mixes up his latin verb declensions." Berbatov wastes a decent position inside the box, his shot comfortably blocked.
11 min: Van der Sar races wide of his goal to clear, but can only find Rory Delap 40-odd yards out. The goal's open, but his effort swerves wide.
13 min: Berbatov and Hernandez combine nicely again before Faye turns away Evra's shot. Jones nods away the corner. This is being played at breakneck speed just now.
14 min: First chance for Delap to crank up the old lobbing pistons - Vidic heads away for a corner ?
15 min: - Van der Sar fingertips away and again United counter. This time, though, Nani delays and Stoke clear.
17 min: Delap wangs another one into the mixer - and it's definitely a mixer at Stoke - Huth glances on, but there's no one there to capitalise.
18 min: "The possibility of modernist kick-offs is interesting," writes Scott W. "I'd like to see a cubist kick-off that doesn't kick-off so much as play with representations of the function of kicks-offs; or a surrealist kick-off where a melting ball congeals around a player's leg. By extension, post-modernist kick-offs would be just like traditional kick-offs only swathed in brand-names and cynicism - just your typical Premier League, then."
20 min: Stoke pile on the pressure - not so much a hot knife through butter as the slow, firm patting of the back of a wooden spoon on a tub of Flora. Dangerous free-kick, though ?
21 min: - Fletcher slides in to head away. From the corner there's a bit of a scramble, but again United clear. Only one side in it at the moment, though.
23 min: Etherington skips past the treacle-treading Neville, but his pull back is behind the two strikers. At the other end Fate clatters Hernandez. Free-kick. Central. 25 yards out ?
24 min: - clumped into the wall by Nani.
25 min: This is all very Premier League. 20 men charging about at great speed with, as yet, little craft on display.
GOAL!!! Stoke 0-1 Manchester Utd (Hernandex 27) And having just typed that, what a piece of skill this is. Nani's deep cross is nodded back across by Vidic, Hernandez, his back to goal, jerks like a Buckaroo to flick a header beyond Sorensen.
29 min: That really was a marvellous bit of improvisation from the Mexican, a shining beacon of excellence amidst the blood and thunder. Fletcher turns things back to type by whisking away Jones's legs.
31 min: Van der Sar plays chicken with Walters but clears just in time.
32 min: Mean, lean flinging machine Rory Delap launches another exocet into the box, but United have, by and large, been coping with them pretty well thus far.
34 min: G Nev becomes the first player booked after catching Etherington. "'At the other end Fate clatters Hernandez,'" writes Robin Hazlehurst. "It is a Greek tragedy isn't it - or would that have been a thunderbolt from Zeus clobbering him? Or have Stoke got the four horsemen of the apocalypse playing at the back with Fate and Destiny in midfield? The Premier League as Wagnerian opera."
35 min: Bit of a delay as Etherington gets the magic sponge.
37 min: Evra needlessly tangles with Pennant to hand Stoke a free-kick on the edge of the box. This is a chance ?
38 min: - like a postman with a letterbox phobia, that's a dreadful delivery from Pennant.
40 min: WHUMP! Scholes goes sliding in on Pennant and straight into the book. Wilson's five-iron into the box goes long. Should've pitching wedged it.
41 min: Faye's backpass is a touch short and Sorensen can only hammer his clearance against the onrushing Hernandez. The big Dane gives his central defenders an earful, something along the lines of "Please communicate to each other, chaps." But rather more succinct.
42 min: I think that may have been a bottle job, Mr Marriner. Neville is late and lunging as Etherington again attempts to glide past. It's a booking, a nailed on booking, but the referee opts out. Nothing to do with the fact that the full-back had already been shown a yellow card, I'm sure. Tony Pulis looks suitably disgusted.
44 min: Evra somehow climbs highest among the giants in the box, but his header drifts just wide.
45+1 min: Stoke need the break and a good talking to from their manager ? the zest has gone and United are in control.
45+2 min: Scholes dinks a free-kick to a clean-through Evra ? he tries to find Hernandez when the shot looked a better option and Stoke clear.
Peep! Peep! An absorbing half comes to an end.
Half-time email dept.
"I'm going to put this out there, is Gary Neville a bit weary and the thought of tracking the road runner all day has him looking for a red?" ponders David Fallon.
"Neville's booking was never a yellow card, so it's even after the ref failed to call the obvious one," reckons Neil Goldenberg.
"Perhaps Premiership games could reflect forms of social networking," writes Ian Copestake. "Both teams scroll up and down the pitch before taking turns to post freekicks onto the opposition's wall."
"There were two terrible challenges by Stoke players in that first half: one on Evra and one on Hernandez; both off the ground and from behind," writes Adam. "The ref failed to show a card for either. Are ref's more lenient because of Stoke's reputation as a "physical team" or did the ref bottle it infront of this crowd?"
Half-time snack dept. A huge dehumanising pile of greasy stodge. Mmmmm ?
Peep! Half II: Return of the Football rolls into view. Neville has been replaced by Brown. Weirdly, though, Neville had lined up for the kick off. How odd.
46 min: So can Stoke rediscover their mojo that left them somewhere around the 30-minute mark?
47 min: Delap gets the WD40 on his lats, runs up, and wangs his attempted long throw at the feet of Evra.
48 min: Pennant chips in a free-kick, flicked on, then overhead-skewed by Shawcross.
50 min: Nani screams in agony as Collins traps his ankle between his legs. A fully deserved booking for the Stoke man.
52 min: Despite all the huffin' and a-puffin' the goal has been the only shot on target thus far. Loose pass from Fletcher hands Stoke possession on dangerous soil, but United smother the attack.
53 min: United scramble clear as Delap sends in another couple of missiles. "Drying the ball for Rory Delap - the most coveted job in ballboydom?" ponders David Fallon.
54 min: United scream for a penalty as Evra goes down in the box under pressure from Delap. Looked optimistic in real time and the replays hardly suggest a stonewaller.
56 min: Substitution time!!! Woop woop!!! Danny Collins off, the increasingly curly-barneted Danny Higginbotham on.
58 min: Delap throws/wangs/launches another missile/exocet/throw-in into the box. United head clear.
59 min: See 58 min.
60 min: Interesting one this. Van der Sar and Huth tangle in the box, the keeper appearing to drag down the German defender. Free-kick, slightly oddly, to United.
61 min: Here's a suggestion from 101 Great Goals. Perhaps classy reverse-headers are a Mexican thing.
62 min: Scholes gives Walters the ball outside the United area, but he and Jones contrive to mangle the chance.
63 min: Apparently that strange Neville substitution was because Wes Brown wasn't quite ready. And who can blame him? He's only had the best part of an hour to prepare.
65 min: Again it's Stoke in the ascendancy, but it's all a bit slow and stodgy. They need a bit of zippety-zap, and here comes Tuncay (for Walters) in an attempt to inject it.
67 min: "Nani screamed in agony, writhed around and banged his hand on the turf in pain after that earlier tackle," writes Niall Mullen. "Luckily the referee cured him by raising a yellow coloured card in the air. Is this some new orthopaedic miracle available onlyto super rich footballers? I think we should be told."
68 min: Evra spanks a cross against Huth from a yard away, then screams for a pen. "The arms were down so no penalty," says Alan Smith on Sky. What rulebook is he looking at?
69 min: That was actually a decent position for Evra. He's been a bit of a weak link in United's attacks. "Are there any stats of slide tackles/game? Stoke MUST be winning that by some distance," reckons Matt Wittbrodt on Twitter.
70 min: Carrick replaces - somebody. Then passes the ball straight out of play.
72 min: Nearly another super strike from Hernandez. Another lightning-fast break from United sees Berbatov clear. His low cross finds Chicharito at the back post ? he's stretching but somehow manages to make a clean (perhaps too clean) contact and volley just wide.
74 min: It was O'Shea who came off for Carrick, so Evra has dropped back to left-back.
75 min: Stoke win a free-kick, 50 yards out ?
76 min: - wasted like Meat Loaf's youth.
77 min: Sounds like a remarkable game over in the Eredivisie. It's currently PSV 8-0 Feyenoord. First time the Rotterdam team have conceded eight in the league since 1983. Thanks to Infostrada for that one. Don't worry - you haven't missed anything with that bit of off-topic news. It's a little lull.
78 min:Gudjohnssen replaces the increasingly peripheral Pennant. And Stoke win a corner ?
79 min: - booted away.
GOAL!!! Stoke City 1-1 Manchester Utd (Tuncay 80) Screamer! A 24-carat screamer! Scholes gifts away possession in his own half, Gudjohnsen works the ball wide to Tuncay, who skips inside and thumps a stunning strike across Van der Sar and into the top corner. A beaut.
82 min: So then, can United respond? Nani tries one from 20 yards out, but Sorensen drops neatly on the ball at the near post.
84 min: Nani tippy-toes down the wing, but skies his cross into the Staffordshire air.
GOAL!!! Stoke 1-2 Manchester Utd (Hernandez 85) Scored by Hernandez, crafted by Berbatov. Amid the maelstrom the Bulgarian is ultra-cool on the edge of the box, he chips a cross deep to Evra and the France full-back's drive across goal is turned in by Hernandez.
87 min: A Thor-sized hammerblow to Stoke's solar plexus that. The Britannia silent but for the boisterous band of away fans.
88 min: Obertan has replaced Scholes, by the way. United stream forward on the counter, but Hernandez can't find Nani with his cross.
89 min: Nani spanks a volley over the bar. Four minutes added time to be played. And it's 10-0 to PSV now, by the by.
90+1 min: Higginbotham wins a corner and Sorensen rumbles forward ?
90+2 min: - over the keeper's head but headed well wide by Wilson.
90+3 min: Jones got a bit of a whack from Vidic there and he needs a bit of treatment.
90+4 min: Superb save from Sorensen! Berbatov feeds Nani, whose shot is clawed away by the keeper.
90+6 min: Pass, pass, pass from United.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeeep! All over. A big three points for United.
Right, that's it from me. Thanks, as ever, for all the emails. Now why not go and join Scott Murray for Man City v Arsenal. Go on! Get!
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.