Manchester United created a string of great goalscoring opportunities at home to struggling Stoke City on Sunday, but were punished for only converting one of them. Anthony Martial’s second half opener was cancelled out by a late Joe Allen equaliser, as United frustratingly failed to extend their winning run.
United should’ve been ahead within a couple of minutes, when Paul Pogba poked the ball through for Zlatan Ibrahimović, but unfortunately for United, the Swedish striker was denied from point-blank range by Lee Grant. It marked the beginning of one of the game’s dominant narratives, with the veteran shot-stopper going on to thwart United’s attackers on numerous occasions.
The opening exchanges weren’t all one-way traffic, and Stoke had a good chance of their own when Allen pulled a low cross back for Geoff Cameron. Fortunately for United, the American midfielder’s shot from the edge of the area had neither power nor placement, and was comfortably held by David de Gea.
But with the exception of that fleeting moment of danger, United were very much on top. A wonderful free-flowing move culminated in Pogba surging through after a quarter-of-an-hour, though he managed to fire wide when free in the penalty area. He had another great chance on a Daley Blind corner a few minutes later, though he once again lacked the requisite accuracy despite being left unmarked in the Stoke box.
The last real chance of the opening period came after half-an-hour, and it was another excellent one. A low Ibrahimović pass was met at the near post by a darting Jesse Lingard, though an outstanding reaction stop from Stoke’s keeper prevented the young winger from capping an impressive first half performance with a goal. The opening period ended goalless, but United’s play had given supporters belief that further opportunities would follow after the restart.
However, that initially didn’t prove the case. The visitors came out for the second half looking much improved, and United struggled to regain the upper hand. 20 minutes passed with Stoke still on top; a long-range Ander Herrera snapshot represented United's best attempt. José Mourinho responded by bringing on Wayne Rooney and Martial, with Juan Mata and Lingard withdrawn.
United fans would’ve been forgiven for being underwhelmed by the withdrawal of their two most creative players, but it didn’t take long for the frowns to be inverted. Within a couple of minutes Martial and Rooney exchanged passes in the penalty area before the former curled a perfect shot just inside Grant’s far post. United, at long last, had the lead.
Further half-chances followed in the following few minutes, but once again the hosts failed to take their chances. They were made to pay a heavy price inside the final 10 minutes, when Stoke equalised with a highly fortuitous goal. De Gea failed to deal with a deflected long-range effort, parrying it instead straight back into the path of Jonathan Walters. His cut-back came off the woodwork and left Allen with a tap-in to equalise.
Mourinho immediately introduced Memphis for Herrera, and United were quickly back searching for a winner. Inside the final five minutes Ibrahimović found some space in the penalty area, though his low shot was pushed to safety by the excellent Grant. Minutes later a perfect Marcus Rashford cross was headed goalwards by Pogba, whose third clear-cut chance of the game came back off the crossbar.
On another day it could’ve been a convincing win; today, it should’ve been a convincing win. As it was, Mourinho’s men were made to settle for a frustrating point.