Manchester United’s new-look lineup crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Stoke City on Saturday as they squandered another opportunity to make up ground on the English Premier League’s top four.
United fielded Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and record signing Juan Mata in their starting XI for the first time, but an eighth defeat of the campaign left the champions six points below the UEFA Champions League places.
On an afternoon of howling wind at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke took a 38th-minute lead when Charlie Adam’s long-range free-kick took a huge deflection off Michael Carrick that wrong-footed goalkeeper David de Gea.
United had already lost Jonny Evans to injury by that point and they then saw Evans’ centerback partner Phil Jones stretchered off after an aerial collision with Jon Walters.
United equalized two minutes into the second half, Van Persie finishing adroitly from Mata’s deft pass, only for Adam to restore Stoke’s lead five minutes later with a glorious shot into the top-right corner.
The visitors piled on the pressure in stoppage-time, but to no avail, with Tom Cleverley blazing a shot over the crossbar after Asmir Begovic had palmed a free-kick from Rooney onto the post.
“I don’t know what we have to do to win,” said United manager David Moyes, whose side remain in seventh place in the table. “I thought we were extremely unlucky. We played well in difficult conditions, but we have lost to one wicked deflection and one worldy, but we should have been out of sight with the amount of opportunities we had today and we only have ourselves to blame.”
It was Stoke’s first win over United since December 1984 and it left them in 11th place in the table.
“To a man, we were fantastic,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes, the former United striker. “We got a little bit of luck with the first goal, which we have felt we haven’t had in recent months, but throughout the game every one of my players put heart and soul into what we were trying to do.”
With top-four teams Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool not in action, Everton were the only side who fully capitalized on the opportunity to close on the Champions League positions.
Thrashed 4-0 by Liverpool last week, Everton fell 1-0 behind at home to Aston Villa when Leandro Bacuna finished off a slick counterattack in the 34th minute.
However, Steven Naismith came off the bench to score a 74th-minute equalizer, before Kevin Mirallas’ sublime late free-kick secured a 2-1 win that left Roberto Martinez’s side a point behind Liverpool in fifth place.
Tottenham Hotspur were unable to follow Everton’s lead after being held to a 1-1 draw at Hull City that saw them slip to sixth.
Spurs, crushed 5-1 by City on Wednesday last week, had to settle for a point at the KC Stadium after Paulinho’s smart 61st-minute finish canceled out Shane Long’s first Hull goal in the first half.
Sunderland surged up the table to 14th place after prevailing 3-0 against derby rivals Newcastle United at St James’ Park for the second season running.
Fabio Borini’s penalty gave Sunderland the lead in the 19th minute and Adam Johnson tapped in his seventh goal in seven games four minutes later, before Jack Colback sealed victory with a late strike.
West Ham United also recorded a potentially important victory, weathering the dismissal of striker Andy Carroll to overcome Swansea City 2-0 at Upton Park, although they remained in the bottom three.