- Anthony Martial gave Manchester United the lead on 69 minutes with a wonderfully curled strike
- The Frenchman was introduced as a second-half substitute along with fellow forward Wayne Rooney
- United were truly dominant over Stoke City but spurned a smorgasbord of opportunities at Old Trafford
- Their profligacy was then punished on 81 minutes by Joe Allen, who tapped in from close range
Goodness knows what tactical advice Jose Mourinho’s backroom staff gave Paul Pogba this time, but it didn’t appear to include a guide to scoring goals.
Pogba was guilty of three glaring misses as Manchester United were held by Stoke City, three days after the world’s most expensive player was left ‘confused’ when he was handed the wrong instructions before Thursday’s win over Zorya Luhansk.
On that occasion, United played like they had just stumbled across a gameplan from Louis van Gaal’s old clipboard.
This was much better. Even better than their 4-1 win over champions Leicester City last week, Mourinho claimed, and he had a point.
The finishing wasn’t, though, and that was the difference. That and an inspired performance from on-loan goalkeeper Lee Grant as Joe Allen’s late equaliser secured Stoke’s first point at Old Trafford for 36 years.
It left Mourinho bemoaning his luck and three points worse off than Van Gaal at the same stage last season. The United manager refused to single out individuals, but there is no question that a player of Pogba’s calibre should be burying the kind of chances that came his way on Sunday.
The £89million man was conspicuous from the moment he left United’s team bus before kick-off wearing a tracksuit when all of his team-mates were in club suits.
Pogba’s first opportunity arrived after quarter of an hour when Zlatan Ibrahimovic backheeled the ball to Jesse Lingard, who squared it for the Frenchman. Pogba had only Grant to beat from eight yards but somehow dragged his effort wide of the left-hand post.
The next chance was a free header from a corner midway through the first half, guided well off target.
The final miss was most painful, though, coming in the 89th minute as United desperately chased a winner. Marcus Rashford whipped in a cross and Pogba met it with a header from point-blank range.
A goal seemed a formality. Somehow, though, Pogba managed to connect with both his head and left shoulder, sending the ball crashing against the bar.
‘I never criticise my players for missing chances,’ said Mourinho afterwards. ‘The goalkeeper is the man of the match and deservedly. The post, too.’
Pogba was not the only culprit, to be fair, as United failed to make their superiority count. Who knows how the game would have panned out had Ibrahimovic slotted the ball wide of Grant when Pogba played him through after 90 seconds.
Instead, Ibrahimovic tried to beat the goalkeeper at his near post, and was denied by a fantastic reflex save from Grant, who got up to keep out the Swede’s follow-up effort as well. There were several other excellent stops from Grant, a keeper on loan from Derby County who was making only his second Premier League appearance.
Grant was finally beaten in the 69th minute as Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney, two substitutes sent on less than three minutes earlier by Mourinho, were involved in United’s goal.
Martial carried the ball down the left and played it inside to the England captain. Rooney controlled it but was slow to react as Geoff Cameron took the ball off his toe.
But the ball ran for Martial, who beat Grant with a lovely curling shot into the top corner for his first goal in 10 games this season.
Up to that point, Stoke had come close on two occasions when Cameron and Allen should have done better than fire straight at De Gea.
Maybe Allen’s weak effort had something to do with an ugly challenge from Ander Herrera moments earlier, as the Spaniard sank his studs into Allen’s right thigh. It could easily have been a red card rather than the yellow that referee Bobby Madley produced.
Asked if Herrera should have been sent off, Allen replied: ‘Yes, possibly. In fairness, he was going for the ball but caught me with his studs.’
An excellent display from Stoke’s £13million signing from Liverpool was rewarded in the 82nd minute.
Glen Johnson cut in from the right and took aim. A slight deflection was enough to make De Gea spill the ball at his near post, and substitute Jonathan Walters turned it against the bar from a tight angle.
Allen was following up to hammer it into an open goal despite the attempts of Antonio Valencia.
There was time for a final Pogba chance, but this wasn’t his day, and he was lucky not to be booked for wrestling Allen to the ground before a corner in the final minute. Referee Madley let him escape with a ticking-off.