Wayne Rooney became Manchester United’s all-time top scorer on Saturday, curling a late free-kick beyond Stoke City goalkeeper Lee Grant to surpass Bobby Charlton’s tally of 249 goals. More consequentially, the last-gasp strike rescued a point when United’s 16-game unbeaten streak looked under serious threat: Juan Mata had earlier inadvertently prodded the Potters in front with an own goal.
On balance it was probably a deserved point: United had made a solid start to the match when the ball trickled inside David de Gea’s near post midway through the first half. After going behind, José Mourinho’s men remained in the ascendancy, even if it took them half an hour to find a way through a sturdy Stoke defence. When they did so, it was a chance for redemption for Mata, though the Spanish winger skied a low Zlatan Ibrahimović cross that looked easier to score. It wasn’t his afternoon.
It wasn’t looking like United’s afternoon more generally; they’d have loved a goal before the interval, and though chances were forthcoming, a breakthrough was not. Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both had opportunities before Paul Pogba struck a perfect volley straight at Stoke keeper Grant; anywhere else and the ball would’ve rocketed into the back of the net. As it was, the two teams left the field with Stoke ahead, but United on top.
Unfortunately their momentum was rather broken by the interval, and it took just 10 minutes for Mourinho to introduce Marcus Rashford in place of the ineffectual Marouane Fellaini. United were in control, but still the final pass was lacking. The game grew increasingly ragged, but Stoke's defensive seams remained just about intact. Mourinho determined more firepower was needed, and Rooney was promptly introduced in Mata’s place. With still nothing doing, the last sub saw Mkhitaryan withdrawn for Jesse Lingard.
Two of the three substitutes were involved when the next chance arose with a quarter-of-an-hour left on the clock. However, Rashford couldn't keep the ball down after taking receipt of a Rooney cross, curling over the crossbar from the edge of the area. What looked like the final chance of the game came soon after, when Lingard slipped his marker on the edge of the penalty area, only for his vicious strike to clip the crossbar on its way over.
The Potters wanted to make the game as scrappy as possible, and with the complicity of referee Mark Clattenburg, they had succeeded. However, there was no legislating for United’s equaliser in the fifth minute of stoppage time. A free kick out on the left side of the Stoke box didn't look particularly dangerous, though Rooney had other ideas. His curling effort found the inside of Grant’s far post, as he became United’s all-time top goalscorer in fine fashion. It proved the last real action of the action of the game, with United having rescued a late point for the second week running.