Manchester: Manchester United overcame their long injury list to go level on points with crosstown rivals Manchester City atop the Premier League standings after Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov scored a penalty each for a routine 2-0 win over Stoke on Tuesday.
Alex Ferguson's team was without 11 senior players, including both first-choice keepers, but had little trouble against a lackluster Stoke side.
The game struggled to get going at times as United dominated possession without ever creating a clear-cut opportunity, with both goals coming from the penalty spot. Hernandez slotted in from the spot in the 38th to put the hosts ahead and Berbatov added the second in the 53rd as an injury-depleted United took advantage of crosstown rivals City's 1-0 loss at Everton and now only trail the leaders by goal difference.
Stoke rarely threatened as United goalkeeper Ben Amos comfortably earned a clean sheet on his Premier League debut, filling in for the injured David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard. There were five other changes to the side that beat Arsenal in the Red Devils' last league match, with Park Ji-sung, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Berbatov and Hernandez all named in the starting line-up.
United also struggled going forward initially, with only Antonio Valencia looking likely to break Stoke down, with both Nani and Ashley Young on the sick list as well as Wayne Rooney.
It took both teams a while to get going on a cold evening in Manchester, with both sides having wayward efforts in the opening quarter of the game, and it wasn’t until the 20th minute that a shot caused worry to either goalkeeper.
At 37 and fresh out of retirement, Paul Scholes was being asked to start his second game in four days. The veteran midfielder came close to breaking the deadlock with a shot that flicked wide off Wilson Palacios.
Just after the half-hour United’s other central midfielder Michael Carrick had the goal in his sights but, like Scholes before him, he fired wide of the post. Carrick, Park and Berbatov then combined neatly to release the midfielder inside the penalty area, but his low shot across Thomas Sorensen was just beyond the far post.
United finally went ahead eight minutes from half-time when Park Ji-sung raced onto a short pass from Scholes and drew a reckless tackle from Jermaine Pennant. Hernandez found the bottom corner with a nerveless effort from the spot, sending Thomas Sorensen the wrong way.
Robert Huth got away with handling Hernandez's cross just before the break but seven minutes after the restart, United were awarded a second spot-kick when Jon Walters bundled Valencia over in the area.
"The first (penalty) one was very debatable," Stoke manager Tony Pulis. "The second one was (a penalty) ... and the one he didn't give - for a foul on Patrice Evra - was a definite penalty."
Despite the clinical nature of Hernandez's previous effort, this time Berbatov assumed the responsibility, beating Sorensen with a shot to the bottom corner as the Sorensen went the right way.
United continued to dominate but once again chances were few and far between; in fact, the best chance fell to Stoke and substitute Cameron Jerome just after the hour. The striker, who had replaced Peter Crouch, leapt well above Jonny Evans, but his effort was easily saved by Amos.
The result at Goodison Park, however, where league leaders and bitter rivals Manchester City lost 1-0 to Everton after a goal from former Man United midfielder Darron Gibson, made it a perfect night for United.