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Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Friday, 26 December 2008

Stoke 0-1 Man Utd

By Phil McNulty

Man Utd's Jonny Evans challenges Stoke's Ricardo Fuller
Man Utd's Jonny Evans challenges Stoke's Ricardo Fuller

Carlos Tevez hammered home a late winner as Manchester United turned up the heat on the Premier League pacesetters with victory at Stoke.

Tevez made no mistake from six yards with seven minutes left.

Stoke had mounted fierce resistance, but were reduced to 10 men for the last 18 minutes after Andy Wilkinson was sent off for fouling Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ricardo Fuller wasted Stoke's best chance in the opening seconds but United's pressure deserved the win.

It was the perfect return to domestic action for United after they beat LDU Quito in Japan on Sunday to lift the Club World Cup in Japan.

The league leaders will now feel the champions closing in, especially as they have games in hand.

United made five changes to the side that won that trophy - one enforced when defender Rio Ferdinand injured his back in the warm-up and was replaced by Jonny Evans.

The red card changed the game - Pulis

And Evans was almost caught out in the opening seconds when Fuller got on the end of a long ball into the box but shot wildly over the bar.

United responded instantly, and Nemanja Vidic was frustrated when he headed wide from Ryan Giggs' cross.

The rest of the opening period was a horribly messy affair, with Stoke doggedly resisting United's attempts to bring some cohesion to the game.

Wayne Rooney almost opened the scoring after 24 minutes with a neat header from Gary Neville's cross, but Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen was well-placed to make the save.

United, inevitably, pressed forward straight after the re-start and Sorensen did well to block a stinging drive from Tevez.

And Sorensen did even better to deny Paul Scholes, making his first Premier League start for three months after knee surgery, when he fired in a trademark 20-yard drive after 57 minutes.

Gary Oakey

It sparked Stoke into life, and seconds later Edwin van der Sar was forced to dive away to his left to save a long-range effort from Fuller.

United were then troubled by a typical long throw from Rory Delap, but Danny Pugh headed over from eight yards.

Ferguson knew how important three points would be, and he made a positive change by sending on Dimitar Berbatov for John O'Shea.

Stoke, having finally built up some momentum, were reduced to 10 men with 20 minutes left when Wilkinson, having already been booked, stupidly clattered into the back of Ronaldo and was deservedly sent off.

Neville hails 'massive' Man Utd win

There was no excuse for the challenge, although Ronaldo was also fortunate to escape with a kick at the Stoke defender a few minutes earlier.

Rooney had also shown signs of indiscipline earlier by throwing out an elbow at Abdoulaye Faye in a touchline clash.

Stoke were firmly on the back foot after the sending off, with Berbatov heading over and Sorensen saving from Rooney's rising drive.

And United broke the deadlock with seven minutes left as Tevez thrashed home a finish from six yards after Berbatov turned on Neville's cross.

Ronaldo almost made the victory more emphatic with a free-kick that flashed inches wide - but Stoke were unable to mount a late surge and United claimed a crucial three points.

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis:
"Andy's a smashing lad and he's had a great game but the second challenge was a poor challenge, he's given the referee no option.

"Having said that, I thought his first booking was a poor decision by the ref. But the second one, you have to be thinking as well as playing.

"We were very much in the ascendancy before the sending-off. We're very disappointed we've come away with nothing."

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
"Hopefully we will look back and say this was a significant win for us.

"If we get to New Year's Day and are only a point or two away, then we will have a chance.

"Stoke are very resilient, determined and gutsy. However there is no question it was a sending off as it was a rash challenge by their player."

Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Delap (Davies 74), Whelan, Amdy Faye (Olofinjana 89), Pugh, Cresswell (Pericard 90), Fuller.
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Lawrence, Tonge, Sonko.

Sent Off: Wilkinson (72).

Booked: Cresswell, Wilkinson, Fuller, Whelan.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, Evans, Vidic, O'Shea (Berbatov 64), Ronaldo, Scholes (Carrick 90), Fletcher, Giggs, Rooney, Tevez.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Park, Welbeck, Rafael Da Silva, Gibson.

Booked: Evans, Neville.

Goals: Tevez 83.

Att: 27,500

Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Man Utd's Carlos Tevez 7.15 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

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see also
Man Utd hit by Ferdinand lay-off
26 Dec 08 |  Man Utd
Premier League as it happened
26 Dec 08 |  Premier League
Boxing Day football photos
26 Dec 08 |  Football
Liga de Quito 0-1 Man Utd
21 Dec 08 |  Man Utd

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