Hernandez improvised an acrobatic header to give United the lead
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at the Britannia Stadium
Javier Hernandez filled the vacancy left by Wayne Rooney in style as Manchester United snatched their first away win of the Premier League season at Stoke City.
As Rooney celebrated his 25th birthday nursing an ankle injury in Dubai after pulling back from the brink and signing a new five-year deal at United, Hernandez struck twice to ensure a week of turbulence concluded with a crucial three points.
Hernandez gave United a first-half lead with an athletic header, but Sir Alex Ferguson's side looked in danger of failing to protect a lead once again when Stoke substitute Tuncay struck a stunning equaliser with nine minutes left.
Gary Neville excited by Hernandez talent
But it was Hernandez, the little Mexican with the poacher's instinct, who ensured the Stoke celebrations were brief when he turned home the winner from close range after 86 minutes.
Rooney may have been the talk of the pre-match build-up, but his name was barely heard among the hordes of United fans who were initially so infuriated by his desire to leave Old Trafford.
And while the names of former stars such as George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo echoed from the visitors' section, it was the Stoke supporters who made the most of Rooney's dramatic U-turn as they taunted United's followers about the striker's public concerns about the current strength of Ferguson's squad.
But with victory secured at a notoriously hostile and difficult location, United and Ferguson will now hope the agenda switches away from Rooney and back to the business of chasing down Chelsea at the Premier League summit.
Rooney may have been missing, but Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov more than made up for his absence as they provided a dangerous spearhead for United in the first half.
The pair were involved as United sprang a counter-attack on Stoke from an early corner, but Hernandez headed Nani's cross behind his Bulgarian strike partner as he waited to finish the move off inside the area.
Stoke were reliant on trademark long throws from Rory Delap, but they did little to unsettle the United defence apart from one occasion when Robert Huth sent a glancing header well wide of the target.
United looked the more composed and ordered side - but Stoke boss Tony Pulis will have been furious at the manner in which they took the lead after 27 minutes as his side switched off at a United corner, with dire consequences.
Stoke gave Nani space to work a short corner with Patrice Evra, and when the Portuguese winger's delivery was met by Nemanja Vidic, Hernandez scored with an instinctive header.
Hernandez delighted with double
Hernandez almost added a second when Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen's clearance rebounded wide off the striker following a breakdown of communication with Abdoulaye Faye - but United were fortunate to end the half with 11 men.
Gary Neville had already been booked for a foul on Matthew Etherington when he brought the winger down with another reckless challenge.
Neville was relieved and the Britannia Stadium infuriated when referee Andre Marriner showed remarkable leniency to allow the defender, playing his 600th game for United, to escape further punishment.
Ferguson clearly feared Neville would not last the course and replaced him with Wes Brown at the start of the second half, although he was already on the pitch waiting for the restart when his number came up.
Pulis angry Neville not sent off
Chances were at a premium after the break, although Pulis realised Stoke needed to produce some semblance of danger to United. And the Britannia Stadium was unanimous in its approval of his decision to replace Jonathan Walters with Tuncay with 24 minutes left.
But it was United who almost struck again with another swift raid, this time from keeper Edwin van der Sar's throw. He picked out the unmarked Berbatov, and even though his cross found Hernandez, he was stretching and could only divert his effort across the face of goal.
Tuncay then gave Stoke City the moment of magic they required with a brilliant equaliser, curling an angled finish high past Van der Sar.
As the Britannia rocked in celebration, United gathered their forces for one final assault and Hernandez was the hero again, scoring from eight yards after Stoke failed to clear Evra's shot.
And it meant a week of turmoil ended with United's players celebrating wildly in front of their relieved, and ecstatic, fans.
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