Manchester United 4 Stoke City 2
With a sense of perfect timing and high drama that has always typified England's leading striker of the decade, Wayne Rooney marked the 10th anniversary of his stunning arrival in Premier League football by turning from villain to executioner and provider-in chief as Manchester United came from behind to brush aside Stoke.
Having begun the afternoon by supplying Stoke with their opening goal, the totemic England striker atoned with two masterful finishes and key parts in the provision of high-gloss finishes for team-mates Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck.
It was 10 years ago this weekend that Rooney launched his goal-laden top-flight with a coruscating finish for Everton against Arsenal at Goodison Park. In another piece of goalscoring symmetry, Rooney's second strike yesterday (Saturday) was the 200th of his career.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, was quick to praise Rooney, and his nascent partnership with summer arrival Robin van Persie.
"Robin ended up wide left and hit a great cross in and Wayne had a fantastic header. That kind of movement will bother teams and they are starting to gel very well," he said.
The fact that United found themselves behind for the seventh time in 11 games this season is a growing concern.
Ferguson added: "We keep starting badly, Early goal against Fulham. Early goal against Tottenham. Early goal today. We are giving ourselves uphill fights. You don't want it to happen and hopefully we will get it sorted."
Despite scoring three times for England this month, Rooney had not registered in his six previous United outings and few would have envisaged the bizarre twist that handed Stoke an early breakthrough.
Paul Scholes, starting his 400th Premier League game, fouled Michael Kightly near United's left-hand corner flag and when Charlie Adam's low free-kick swung across the edge of the six-yard box, Rooney, under pressure from Ryan Shawcross, inadvertently turned the ball into his own net.
It was far from United's only uncertain touch in the early stages. Six minutes later, goalkeeper David De Gea reacted well to push away Adam's deflected effort, and the home side were momentarily chasing shadows as a flowing Stoke move ended with Jon Walters extracting another worthy save from the home goalkeeper. United needed inspiration, Rooney required redemption, so to Old Trafford's relief, both calls were answered in one sweet moment shortly before the half-hour mark.
Van Persie's cross, whipped in from the left, was met perfectly by Rooney, who had stolen ahead of Shawcross, his nemesis, just 16 minutes earlier.
Now United were moving up the gears. Danny Welbeck, who had earlier lashed over when presented with a clear opening by Van Persie, sent a curling, dipping shot that clipped the top of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic's crossbar.
United moved in front seconds from half-time with Rooney playing a key role. He sprayed the ball wide for Antonio Valencia to drill in a low centre that Van Persie, showing exquisite technique, turned beyond Begovic.
Dealt a hammer blow just before the interval, Stoke were reeling seconds into the second half when United added a third goal. Rooney was again at the hub, this time materialising on the right to curl in a delicious cross behind the Stoke rearguard for Welbeck to head home from close range.
Stoke were wobbling and United had a series of opportunities to put the issue beyond doubt. Somehow Begovic denied Patrice Evra from point-blank range after Rooney had again been the supplier, then Welbeck was halted in full flight on goal by Geoff Cameron's crucial tackle.
The young England forward should also have done better from Rafael's teasing cross.
It seemed improbable, but when the next goal arrived, it was delivered into United's net. Kightly's forceful run through the middle deserved a flick of good fortune, the ball bouncing back to the Stoke winger off Rio Ferdinand's heel, but he continued his surge to finish low past De Gea.
A year ago, United were being humbled 6-1 in front of their disbelieving supporters by Manchester City but there were to be no embarrassments at the hands of another City.
United restored their two-goal advantage over Stoke seven minutes later when Van Persie's corner eluded the Stoke defenders to fall for the hovering Rooney, whose freshly regained predatory instincts did not let him down.
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Manchester United 4 Stoke City 2
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