Manchester United top Stoke City after spirited comeback
MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Substitute Javier Hernandez completed Manchester United's second-half comeback against Stoke on Saturday, securing a 3-2 victory for the Premier League champions.
Peter Crouch stunned Old Trafford with a goal after four minutes and, although United striker Robin van Persie equalized in the 43rd minute, Marko Arnautovic restored Stoke's lead on the stroke of half time from a free kick.
Wayne Rooney drew United level again in the 78th when he headed in Van Persie's corner, and Hernandez nodded the hosts in front two minutes later.
United provisionally remains in eighth place - eight points behind leader Arsenal.
But for the fine goalkeeping of David De Gea, Stoke could have gone further ahead in a first half in which United was nervous and guilty of a series of uncharacteristic defensive mistakes.
The first came after four minutes. Stoke left back Erik Pieters took advantage of too much space afforded him on his favored flank, beating Chris Smalling to cross for Crouch, who bundled the ball past De Gea at the second attempt.
Mark Hughes' men continued to counterattack with purpose, and went close to adding a barely believable second goal after 13 minutes when Crouch beat Jonny Evans to reach Jonathan Walters' cross from the Stoke right, but spooned over the bar from close range.
Inevitably Van Persie was at the forefront of United's attempted fightback, twice finding dangerous balls into the box blocked by the impressive Robert Huth, while Rooney, anonymous for the first 20 minutes, drilled a speculative shot wide from long range.
The visitors went close again when Crouch nodded a fine ball forward from Steven Nzonzi into the path of the unmarked Walters, whose shot from eight yards was brilliantly saved by De Gea.
Nani was not far away at the other end but a second wasted opportunity from the Portugal winger sent the first boos of frustration ringing round Old Trafford.
Taking full advantage of United's fragile back-line, Stoke continued to ooze confidence and De Gea had to be on hand again to save a low shot from Arnautovic just past the half-hour mark.
United's next chance fell to Rooney, who twisted a powerful effort from outside the box which was tipped over by Asmir Begovic, matching the heroics of his opposite number.
The champions finally drew level two minutes before the break when Rooney's header from Patrice Evra's cross was kept out by Begovic but the Bosnia goalkeeper could only flap the ball into the path of Van Persie, who buried it from 10 yards.
As if to underline their fearlessness, Stoke responded by going straight up the other end and restoring their lead within a minute, Arnautovic sending a delicious 30-yard free kick into the top corner after being fouled by Smalling.
After the first-half excitement, the game calmed down at the start of the second, with Stoke understandably sitting deeper and largely coping with what United could throw at them, including Van Persie's free kick that hit the wall from a dangerous position.
Jonathan Walters mis-hit a good opportunity for Stoke after a cross from the left by substitute Marc Wilson, and as home frustration grew Hernandez was booked for a bad challenge on Huth.
It fell to Rooney to ease that frustration 12 minutes from time when he applied the deftest of flicks to Van Persie's corner to draw United level, and Hernandez sealed United's quick-fire comeback by heading the winner two minutes later.
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