Fergie hopes midfield stint will boost Rooney
© AFP

Alex Ferguson says Wayne Rooney's encouraging performance in central midfield during Manchester United's 2-0 win at Stoke City will help his confidence.

Rooney had a hand in United's second goal as he set up Robin van Persie, who was fouled by Andy Wilkinson before slotting home the resulting penalty.

"Wayne was brilliant," enthused Ferguson. "I was thinking he possibly needed a different role in terms of getting his confidence back.

"He has been under a bit of criticism, not serious, but there were some doubters nonetheless.

"He's a fantastic player and our job is to get that confidence and form back. I thought a spell in midfield would do him the world of good and it worked for us."

The tactical switch allowed Ferguson to partner Javier Hernandez with Van Persie in attack.

The move paid dividends as Van Persie scored his first goal in 11 games.

But Ferguson defended the Dutchman's recent record, insisting there was nothing unusual about a striker going through a dry spell.

"Our three forward players had 54 goals between them. For all strikers, and I was one myself, you go through spells when you are not scoring and thinking you will never get a goal," said Ferguson.

"Then when you are scoring you never think you are going to miss. It was an important goal and there were two or three things about it.

"Robin did really good work from Wayne's pass to get to the penalty. Then the ball moved off the spot two or three times and he showed composure to settle himself down and score a perfect penalty - low, hard and into the corner."

Ferguson pays credit to his players
Ferguson also paid tribute to his side's character as they mastered difficult, windy conditions to go 15 points clear of nearest rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

Michael Carrick scored after just four minutes before Van Persie's 67th-minute penalty sealed victory at the Britannia Stadium and United can now seal the title next weekend if City fail to win their next two matches.

"The players were fantastic," said Ferguson. "There were all the ingredients for a shock.

"It was windy and the ball was moving through the wind and it's never easy to come here anyway.

"I was sat at the beginning of the game seeing the wind affect the ball and saying to myself 'it is the worst day you could possibly come to Stoke'.

"The players deserve all the credit for the battling performance they gave.

"The character of the team is showing and I don't think you can leave your character in the dressing room.

"They went out on the pitch with that and got the result they deserve.

"In terms of standing up and being counted, everyone did a great job of that."

Stoke remain optimistic
Stoke have won just once in 2013 but manager Tony Pulis still believes just two victories in their final five games will seal safety.

"I've spoken to the players and it is now a five game season," he said. "There are eight or nine teams in the scrap and the season starts for us now.

"I think 40 points - or two wins does it. We have a pretty good goal difference so 40 points should be like 41.

"We have good players but just need a break. We just have not got the breaks but the most important thing is to stay nice and positive.

"The first goal killed us. It was a poor goal to concede and then the second goal came when the game was tight. The longer it goes the more chance we had, we saw (by) how much they celebrated what it meant.

"The positive we can take is we don't have to play Manchester United again.

"It was a strange game, they scored from two set pieces."