O'Shea is mobbed by United players after scoring their second goal of the game
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Britannia Stadium
Ryan Giggs emerged from the bench to inspire Manchester United to an impressive win at Stoke City as the champions demonstrated their hunger to claim a fourth successive title by returning to the Premier League summit.
Giggs - outstanding in the contentious derby win against Manchester City last Sunday - showed his enduring quality by making the decisive contribution to set up a victory Sir Alex Ferguson's side richly deserved.
He replaced the infuriating Nani early in the second half and swiftly set up a simple opener for Dimitar Berbatov as United finally transformed their domination into tangible rewards.
He then helped settle the match when he sent over a pinpoint free-kick for John O'Shea to head the second with 13 minutes left.
Jubilant O'Shea happy with goal
It was only what United merited for their emphatic superiority, which they exerted from start to finish as Stoke's normally whole-hearted approach fizzled out long before the final whistle.
If Stoke hoped to exploit United goalkeeper Ben Foster, heavily criticised for his uncertain display against Manchester City, they were never given the chance as most of the action unfolded in the Potters' territory and any rare raids were comfortably repelled.
Wayne Rooney was behind all United's early supremacy, but it was the composure and class of Giggs that brought order to proceedings, and three points to United as they leapfrogged Chelsea.
He was the difference between wasted approach play and end product as United ran out comfortable winners at the Britannia, a hostile environment that has proved to be hazardous territory for the top four since Stoke returned to the Premier League.
Stoke's fans were subdued, or at least as subdued as they ever will be, as United ensured they were given little encouragement to create the usual cauldron.
United left Giggs and derby match-winner Michael Owen on the bench - and they watched their side dominate possession throughout the first 45 minutes.
Nani and Rooney were prominent and signalled their threat inside two minutes when they combined for the England striker to hook a bicycle kick just over the bar with Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen flat-footed.
Rooney swiftly repaid the compliment when he set up Nani, whose cross shot drifted inches wide with Sorensen again helpless.
Valencia was guilty of the worst miss of the opening period after only seven minutes when he caught Ryan Shawcross in possession but lifted a right-foot finish wide with only Sorensen to beat.
Stoke were finding it difficult to make any inroads into United territory, but Liam Lawrence did cause one rare moment of alarm when he flashed the ball across the face of goal with no-one in attendance to apply the final touch.
Nani's first-half display was, at best, a mixed bag and he showed the infuriating side of his game when he chose to ignore both Rooney and Berbatov and shoot hopelessly off target after United caught Stoke with a counter attack of breathtaking pace.
Rooney, who had released Nani before racing at least 50 yards to rejoin the attack, was not slow to demonstrate his displeasure to his team-mate.
Nani showed his more acceptable face when he forced Sorensen into a fine save two minutes before the break as the Stoke keeper dived spectacularly to his left to turn away his angled effort.
Pulis pays tribute to 'best' team
The Portuguese winger summed up his display with a piece of poor control that brought taunts of "you'll never be Ronaldo" from Stoke City's fans. And when he followed up by wasting a promising position with a cross straight into the hands of Sorensen, it was the final straw for Ferguson, who immediately hauled him off.
It was a predictable move, and one which brought dividends within six minutes as Giggs showed the composure and common sense that had been lacking in Nani to set up the opener for Berbatov after 62 minutes.
He collected Darren Fletcher's superb pass before demonstrating to the watching Nani that football is essentially a simple game, laying on an open invitation for Berbatov to score from close range.
Stoke's fans pleaded for Paul Scholes, who had earlier been cautioned for a foul on Lawrence, to be shown the red card when he handled a cross, but referee Howard Webb showed restraint and the United midfield man escaped further censure.
United keeper Foster had barely been troubled, and Stoke boss Tony Pulis recognised the need for greater cutting edge when he introduced Tuncay and James Beattie for David Kitson and Dean Whitehead with 19 minutes remaining.
Any possible impact the pair could have had was effectively snuffed out as United doubled their lead through O'Shea after 77 minutes - and once again Giggs was the creator with a vicious free-kick that the defender flicked beyond Sorensen.
United saw out the rest of the game in comfort as they delivered an ominous message to those hoping to take the Premier League away from Old Trafford.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis: "The best team won.
"For us to compete against a team like Manchester United we need everybody to be at their maximum. Instead I felt we were flat right from the start.
"They (Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes) are both great players but Scholes was magnificent.
"He was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. Then Giggs makes the two goals.
"You can only respect and admire them. They are absolutely fantastic players."
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "There is a long way to go but it has been a good day for us.
"Ryan Giggs is important and he made the goals.
"I felt his intelligence would give them a bit of bother on that side of the pitch. Nani did pretty well but Ryan gives you something else.
"He has the intelligence to take up good positions. For the first goal he went on a lovely run behind their defence and the second was an excellent free-kick."
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