Manchester United kept up their resurgent form with a 2-1 win over Stoke in the Premier League on Tuesday, with Juan Mata's second-half goal securing a fourth straight victory.
However, United needed a superb save from goalkeeper David de Gea and a goal-line clearance from Ashley Young in the final two minutes of injury time to preserve another three points that keeps the team in the top four.
Mata's winner in the 59th minute had a slice of fortune about it. The Spain playmaker's inswinging free kick from the right wing curled over the heads of a number of players in the box and bounced into the far corner.
Without the injured pair of Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria, United lacked creativity at Old Trafford and took a 21st-minute lead through a direct route when Marouane Fellaini scored a towering, far-post header.
Steven Nzonzi equalized in the 39th for Stoke with a powerful shot from the edge of the area and failed to genuinely test United until a frantic final few minutes.
United, rebuilding under new manager Louis van Gaal, stayed fourth and are provisionally two points behind second-placed Manchester City, which visit Sunderland on Wednesday.
United have been looking to restore the fear factor at Old Trafford - but their makeshift team was far from intimidating without Rooney and Di Maria, along with a defense containing wingers Young and Antonio Valencia as full backs.
In the end, two high balls into the box - crosses that Stoke's physically imposing teams down the years were masters at dealing with - were the downfall of the hard-working but limited visitors.
Fellaini nipped in front of left back Erik Pieters to meet a hanging cross to the far post by Ander Herrera with a downward header into the center of the goal. Stoke should have been behind by then, with Herrera blasting a shot over the bar after Robin van Persie had intercepted a weak clearance by goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Nzonzi scored with Stoke's only shot on goal in the first half, a fierce strike from the edge of the area after the ball fell loose following a foraging run by Bojan Krkic.
But United restored their lead just before the hour mark when Mata swung in a cross that eluded leaping United defender Marcos Rojo, who initially claimed the goal, and bounced into the far corner.
Fit-again Colombia striker Radamel Falcao came on for the final 12 minutes for United to replace 19-year-old James Wilson, starting as Rooney's replacement for his first start of the season.
But it was Stoke which finished the stronger, with Mame Biram Diouf seeing a header brilliantly parried out by De Gea and then having his goalbound shot cleared off the line by Young.