Nani strike fires Manchester United three points clear
Winger gives United vital win after Dean Whitehead had cancelled out Javier HernÃƒÂ¡ndez's opener
Manchester United maintained their unbeaten league record and top spot in the Premier League thanks to a second-half screamer from Nani.
Nani’s 61st minute strike gave United a hard-fought 2-1 win over Stoke at Old Trafford which moves them three points clear of title rivals Manchester City having played a game less.
With the festive period obviously taking its toll Sir Alex Ferguson rotated his squad giving starts to Chris Smalling, Darren Gibson and Javier HernÃƒÂ¡ndez and making six changes from the team that beat West Brom at the weekend.
The home side started brightly and Gibson saw a long-range effort whistle past the post in the fifth minute after a typically surging run from Patrice Evra at left-back.
United dominated the first quarter of the game and Dimitar Berbatov controlled and nearly converted a deflected Ryan Giggs shot. Moments earlier the Welsh winger had felt he should have had a penalty for a handball by Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross which was duly ignored by referee Mark Clattenburg.
United deservedly took the lead in the 27th minute when HernÃƒÂ¡ndez cleverly back-heeled Nani’s low cross into the net at the near post.
Ten minutes later the Mexican striker -who scored both United’s goals at the Britannia Stadium earlier in the season -nearly doubled his tally but his header sailed just over.
Tony Pulis would have been disappointed with his side’s first half performance and the visitors started the second half with more determination and pushed more men forward.
And they were rewarded inside five minutes when Dean Whitehead headed home Tuncay’s cross to stun the Old Trafford crowd and score Stoke’s first goal at United for 30 years.
The game quickly became much more of a contest with Stoke beginning to show more ambition, but United took the lead again to the relief of the anxious home crowd who feared that another draw was one the cards.
Nani and HernÃƒÂ¡ndez played a one-two before the Portuguese winger shifted the ball onto his left foot on the edge of the box and unleashed a blistering shot into the far right-hand corner to rapturous applause.
United pressed for a third and HernÃƒÂ¡ndez blasted over after slick play by Nani and Rafael down the right-hand side. The impressive Brazilian fullback then crossed for Giggs whose half-volley with the outside of his foot looped over the bar.
Ferguson’s men held on for three vital points to make it 19 from their last 21 and extend their unbeaten league run to 20 matches this season.