Windy, scrappy, ugly. Yep, Manchester United kicked off the new year away at Stoke City, and were held to a miserable 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium. It was a horrible game in which both goals were scored by set-pieces, and in which Stoke's admittedly impressive midfield scrapping ensured Louis van Gaal's side were rarely able to dictate proceedings.
Stoke manage to break the deadlock in just the second minute of play, and, you guessed it, it came from a corner. Peter Crouch was left inexcusably unmarked at the back post, and flicked the whipped ball down for former United man Ryan Shawcross to volley home. United's reaction was initially tame, seeing plenty of possession but without much purpose. Distribution from the back was too slow, and Stoke had plenty of time to back up and park the bus.
They very almost doubled their lead inside 20 minutes, when another old United player, Mame Biram Diouf nicked the ball from Jonny Evans in a perilous position. Fortunately for the Reds, Diouf ballooned his effort comfortably over the crossbar when one-on-one with David de Gea.
United did manage to equalise just short of the half-hour, with the goal coming on another corner. Michael Carrick flicked the delivery into the melee in the box, and Radamel Falcao pounced to hit the back of the net. Unfortunately, that was as good as things got for United, who were left clinging on at the halftime whistle as Stoke bombarded their box with crosses.
In the second half, things were no different. Playing into the wind -- and Steven Nzonzi, a force not much less potent -- United were unable to control possession for any sustained period. Stoke were on top, and though van Gaal responded by throwing Ander Herrera and Adnan Januzaj into the mix, the Potters remained in the ascendancy.
With 20 minutes left, Crouch almost put Stoke back in front, though his header came agonisingly back off de Gea's post. Stoke could've also had a penalty, though fortunately the referee turned a blind eye to a pretty blatant Chris Smalling handball in the box.
United's frustration was compounded with 15 minutes left, when Ashley Young pulled up with what looked like a hamstring tear. Hopefully he's out for weeks, rather than months.