February 03, 2016

MANCHESTER (AP) Manchester United eased to a 3-0 victory against Stoke in the Premier League on Tuesday, with an attacking display at Old Trafford signaling a potential upturn in confidence at the club.

Jesse Lingard opened the scoring with a close-range header after 14 minutes for United's first goal in the first half at home in 11 matches.

Anthony Martial doubled the advantage nine minutes later, collecting a neat pass from Juan Mata before sweeping home with a curling effort across goal. Captain Wayne Rooney completed the scoring in the second half from close range, Martial providing the assist.

United is fifth in the Premier League, five points behind Arsenal in fourth, which occupies the final Champions League position.

United boss Louis van Gaal thought the attacking nature of his team's display helped his players relax on the field.

The cheers and applause United's team received from supporters at full time created a remarkably different atmosphere to the boos and jeers at the end of its previous home match, a 1-0 defeat by Southampton.

''Michael Carrick said to me what a difference a first-half goal makes because you can play with much more confidence,'' Van Gaal said. ''We scored two goals in the first half and it was an easier game than I expected. In the second half we controlled the game and did not give any chances to Stoke.''

Van Gaal reserved special praise for Martial's goal, which capped a creative display from the France international.

''The second one was a team goal, building up from the back and then switching the play to the other side and then a finish like that, it was fantastic,'' Van Gaal said. ''It could be a turning point but you never know.''

But United goalkeeper David de Gea was certain about what United needs to do to resurrect its campaign - where the lowest expectation is a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League.

''It's one of our best games this season,'' De Gea said. ''We need to stay at this level.''

United's margin of victory could have been greater - substitute Memphis Depay shot narrowly over the crossbar late on - but the performance was controlled and assured from the home side.

As for Stoke, manager Mark Hughes also felt the start was crucial for how the match unraveled.

''We conceded early on, were too passive and for the first goal we didn't get close enough to people,'' Hughes said.

''Avoiding going 1-0 down early on is what you talk about before coming to Old Trafford.''

Stoke is ninth in the Premier League on 33 points. United travels to London next to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, while Stoke hosts Everton on Saturday.

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