Updated: Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 22:24 | Comments
Ashley Young scored his first goal in over 19 months before setting up Patrice Evra to send Manchester United into the Capital One Cup semi-finals with a 2-0 victory over Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.
Booed by the home fans for going to ground too easily, Young has never been a favourite of the United support either.
But they were happy to celebrate with the England winger on Wednesday night after he lashed home what turned into a lay-off by substitute Javier Hernandez from 20 yards.
Not since May 2012 had Young found the net.
And when he then threaded a pass through for Evra to score 12 minutes from time, the former Aston Villa man ensured David Moyes could still land the first silverware available to him in a competition he was beaten by United in the final of four seasons ago.
However, it was not all good news for United, who were without Wayne Rooney due to injury.
With Robin van Persie already sidelined for four weeks with a thigh strain, the prospect of also being without the man who has carried United through much of a troubled campaign is an unpalatable one given they have plenty of work ahead of them over a packed festive programme merely to force their way into top-four contention.
By some considerable distance, the most noteworthy event of the opening half was referee Mark Clattenburg’s decision to take the teams off when the already-poor conditions worsened.
The official said he simply could not see, which given how the heavy rain and hail was being swirled round the stadium was understandable.
However, Stoke boss Mark Hughes was unimpressed and the fact his substitutes remained on the pitch throughout the squall underlined his frustration at the unscheduled interlude, which lasted exactly nine minutes and 47 seconds.
The resumption brought little in the way of meaningful action.
Neither side had any penetration with their passing and two dangerous dead ball situations were wasted completely by Young.
The single chance that did arrive for the visitors came thanks to Chris Smalling getting his head to Tom Cleverley’s corner.
Had a forward been at the far-post, it would have been a clear opportunity.
As it was, Jonny Evans tried to control and Thomas Sorensen snaffled the ball before the United defender managed a second touch.
Sorensen’s senior goalkeeping colleague, Asmir Begovic, had already used the elements on this ground to score this season, and a repeat was not completely out of the question.
Stoke’s conventional attempts to break the deadlock only got as close as Jonathan Walters touching Geoff Cameron’s cross away from Peter Crouch.
Prior to the rain check, United’s noisy travelling support started celebrating what they thought was an early opener from Young.
Making his first start since September 28, Anderson slipped an incisive pass to Danny Welbeck, who quickly found Young.
The England man fired low but his shot rippled the outside of the net, and United supporters’ celebrations were quickly cut short.
With Rooney missing, the visitors’ starting line-up had a grand total of 93 goals between them, not even half the striker’s overall tally.
And without their inspiration, they laboured badly.
Anderson did little to change the perception of being one of the players Moyes needs to get rid of, whilst Phil Jones sat so deep in midfield he was virtually on top of the defence, a move hardly in keeping with the flamboyant days of Alex Ferguson.
There was no noticeable improvement in quality as the second-half began, although the weather was better and the actual play was faster.
It suited United, although it took the introduction of Hernandez for Anderson for them to make it count.
There was a touch of fortune about the goal too in that the Mexican’s attempt to control Young’s initial pass was too heavy.
However, that just set it up perfectly for Young, who unleashed a brutal effort from 20 yards and then headed into the crowd to celebrate.
Walters wasted a glorious chance to equalise when Evra and Evans allowed an Eric Pieters cross to drop on the six-yard line, but Walters failed to make contact with the goal at his mercy.
Evra made Walters pay when he finished smartly with his right foot after striding onto Young’s pass to secure a victory that also saw another late substitute appearance for Darren Fletcher.
CAPITAL ONE CUP SEMI-FINAL DRAW
Sunderland v Man Utd.
Man City v West Ham.
Ties to be played on January 7-8 and January 21-22.