MANCHESTER UNITED’s new-look line-up crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Stoke City on Saturday as they squandered another opportunity to make up ground on the 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 Champions League places.
On an afternoon of howling wind at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke took a 38th-minute lead when Charlie Adam’s 35-yard 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’s centre-back partner Phil Jones stretchered off after an aerial collision with Jon Walters.
United equalised 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.
It was Stoke’s first win over United since December 1984 and saw them climb to 11th place in the table.
“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.”
With top-four teams Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool not in action, Everton were the only side who fully capitalised on the opportunity to close on the Champions League positions.
Thrashed 4-0 by Liverpool in mid-week, Everton fell 1-0 down at home to Aston Villa when Leandro Bacuna finished off a slick counter-attack in the 34th minute.
However, Steven Naismith came off the bench to score a 74th-minute equaliser before Kevin Mirallas’s 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 were crushed 5-1 by City on Wednesday and they had to settle for a point at the KC Stadium after Paulinho’s smart 61st-minute finish cancelled out Shane Long’s first Hull goal in the first half.
Sunderland leapt 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.
Carroll created both of Kevin Nolan’s first-half goals for West Ham, but he was sent off in the 58th minute after catching Swansea centre-back Chico Flores with a flailing arm.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce later revealed that the club would appeal against the decision.
“If we’re going to red-card people for that, then we might as well stop playing and I might as well retire,” he said.
Cardiff City’s new signings Wilfried Zaha and Kenwyne Jones made an instant impact as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side climbed off the foot of the table by coming from behind to win 2-1 at home to Norwich City.
Robert Snodgrass put Norwich ahead in the fifth minute, but on-loan Manchester United winger Zaha created a 49th-minute equaliser for Craig Bellamy before Jones smashed in the winner a minute later.
Fulham slumped to last place after losing 3-0 at home to Southampton, who scored all their goals in the final half an hour through England internationals Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez.