|Paul Pogba reacts after one of his chances goes begging|
If ever there was a result that didn't warrant any knee jerk reaction it is this. Manchester United 1-1 Stoke City on Sunday afternoon went pretty much according to plan except that in the end, United walked away with the result they didn't want. The result that didn't mirror their effort and enterprise over the course of 90 minutes.
Call it luck as the manager did or profligacy as it really was, United all but overrun the Potteries yesterday. Like the last gasp win over Hull, yesterday was eventually set up to be that game in which nothing goes your way, but which you must find a way of winning. Indeed, the case can be made that United tried to force the issue and the blame can be shared equally between Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for failing to let their world class quality shine over the challenges of this game.
The expectation is that given the quality between those two, and the investment therein, any one of the half-dozen chances they had between them should have found the back of the net to make for an easier afternoon. Instead, it felt like with every chance that went begging, Stoke got more confident about themselves.
In this league, when you fail to make hay while on top, things can quickly change to your detriment. A two goal lead is by no means a safe lead in this division, so you can imagine the nerves in the 12 minutes of our lead whenever Stoke broke forward. If luck is not in your corner when the opposition go for it, you will experience what Louis van Gaal called Murphy's law.
Yesterday, a seemingly tame shot by Walters got a slight deflection that made an otherwise routine save for David De Gea slightly awkward. The Spanish stopper spilled his shot and from the resulting follow up, United were saved by the crossbar but it fell so kindly for Joe Allen that all he had to do was drive the dagger into United hearts.
Beyond that, Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford worked well on the flank to deliver a sumptuous cross for Paul Pogba to head into the net from point blank. The heart-break inside Old Trafford was tangible over the telly when the ball crashed off the crossbar. Incredibly unlucky or was it profligate from the world's most dear player?
Regardless the answer, the margins are so thin in football nowadays that United need to become more ruthless if they are to keep in touch of the top positions. United have improved their goal average so far but it still pales in comparison to the other contenders. Perhaps it will get even better with time. But yesterday left a sour taste in the mouth for all who expect that the quality of the team should be able to rise above the wastefulness within the ranks on display yesterday. Chances against a title rival and against Stoke need to be treated with similar reverance and ruthlessness because the points at stake are of equal number.
It shouldn't also be lost on anybody that yesterday was in fact United's best outing of the season. In no other game this term have we been so easy on the eye consistently over the 90 minutes. The manager was right therefore in assessing it as such. Wayne Rooney's absence from the first team continues to have a positive influence on the team. Amazingly, United performed even better than they did in their four goal demolition of the champions. Whilst it is no longer a winning team anymore, it will be difficult for the manager to change much from hereon in the first team set up.
Incredibly, United managed to come away from the weekend one point closer to the summit owing to results elsewhere. Unfortunately for the club, the points thrown away at Watford and yesterday at home mean that the club will be left with little room to maneuver in October with tough tests both domestically and in Europe.
Indeed, United's poor results in September mean that the club's season will be on trial on the other end of the International break. Come away with some fine results at Anfield and against Chelsea and United will haul themselves back into the mix. Two bad results however will quickly change the debate from title challenging to to a top four battle. A price United could have to pay for dropping two vital points at home.