Goalie Grant denies Man United
On-loan Stoke goalkeeper spoils Ibra's birthday with string of super saves
MAN UNITED 1
(Anthony Martial 69)
STOKE CITY 1
(Joe Allen 82)
Call it smash and grab, call it parking the bus, call it what you will.
But could this be the battling point that saves Mark Hughes' job?
Just as his Stoke team appeared to be heading for another painful Premier League defeat last night, Joe Allen, the visitors' best outfield player on the day, tore up the script eight minutes from time, taking advantage of a rare mistake by David de Gea and wrecking Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 35th birthday today in the process.
This is the first time since 1980 that the Potters have avoided defeat at Old Trafford.
Yet, as Hughes punched the air in celebration on a ground where he played for 13 years in two separate spells, picking up seven major trophies, he will know better than anyone that had it not been for the heroics of his on-loan goalkeeper, his winless team would have been buried by half-time - with his own job in even more danger.
United had no fewer than 24 shots, nine of them on target, but were thwarted by a string of world-class saves from Lee Grant, replacing the injured Jack Butland, as well as considerable profligacy from their multi- million pound array of talent.
After rescuing his team with a stunning performance in only his second Premier League appearance, Grant, 33, was finally beaten on 69 minutes after what appeared at the time to be an inspired double substitution by Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant (No. 33) pulling off a magnificent save from Man United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (in red) in the third minute. PHOTO: REUTERS
With his team getting frustrated and the tempo slowing after all their first-half dominance, Mourinho sent on captain Wayne Rooney - benched for the third straight game - and England colleague Anthony Martial.
Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard had not exactly performed poorly but Mourinho wanted more urgency, more potency, more penetration.
The United boss was quickly rewarded as Rooney played his part in a fabulous move that culminated in Martial bending home a glorious effort.
It appeared to be a fatal blow to Stoke, who had created one or two decent chances of their own, but were mainly reliant on Grant.
Yet the Potters had other ideas and, when a Jon Walters' effort came back off the crossbar after a fumble by de Gea, Allen was right on hand to smash home the equaliser in the 82nd minute.
"It was a tough ask, but we did it," said Allen, described by Hughes as the shining light of his team but who could have been badly hurt by a late tackle from Ander Herrera which, on another day, might have got the United man sent off.
"Obviously, Lee pulled off some great saves, but you expect that at Old Trafford. It's a performance to build on."
Grant could not disguise his joy at keeping the likes of Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, gradually reading each other's game, at bay.
The world's most expensive player thumped an effort against the crossbar in the dying seconds of added time, but a winner then would have been cruel on the Man of the Match.
"It's obviously a great day for me personally but, more importantly, it was for the team," said Englishman Grant.
Mourinho will doubtless rue all the missed chances but, despite his side showing far more attacking endeavour and movement off the ball than under Louis van Gaal, you get the impression he is still not sure of his best team or that he is 100 per cent confident about his defence.
As for Stoke, Hughes has been saying for weeks that his side, who also had a bad start last season yet finished ninth, would come good.
His next seven games are against Sunderland, Hull, Swansea, West Ham, Bournemouth and Watford and Burnley - all of them winnable.
Hughes goes into the international break a relieved man - in contrast to Mourinho, for whom the most pressing task is striving for consistency from his galacticos.