United wear down grim Stoke
Ryan Giggs produced another magnificent masterclass to guide Manchester United towards a deserved win at Stoke City. For 55 minutes, Nani occupied the left-wing berth Giggs has filled for so long, but brought only groans and growls of frustration from exasperated team-mates as United failed to make the most of their dominance. Predictably, the response for Giggs was somewhat different.
English football's most decorated player first showed all the composure of his 35 years to provide Dimitar Berbatov with a tap-in. Fifteen minutes later, Giggs curled over the free-kick that allowed John O'Shea to mark his 350th appearance with a goal, as the Irishman guided his header into the far corner. In both instances, the goalscorer immediately ran to their 35-year-old team-mate to offer their thanks.
On the touchline, Nani could only watch - and maybe learn - because at some point, he will have to improve. After following the trail blazed by Cristiano Ronaldo four years earlier by leaving Sporting Lisbon for Old Trafford in 2007, Nani enjoyed a productive first season under Ferguson's tutelage. Unfortunately, the Portugal international seemed to stagnate last term, to such an extent there was a wide body of opinion he would be released should a suitable buyer be found.
Nani himself felt he was capable of filling Ronaldo's immense shoes, although no-one truly believed he would get the chance until deadline-day came and went with Ferguson sticking to his word not to buy anyone else. It is true that Nani possesses the pace and balance of his compatriot. Unfortunately, the marked difference is in the final ball, or sometimes the decision.
A cross might go to the far post when it should have been the near, or he might decide to shoot instead of playing a more obvious pass to someone in a better position. In both instances, Rooney missed out. Even with the Britannia Stadium at its most raucous, Rooney's bellows of frustration cannot have been missed.
As he stood alone and watched Nani's shot sail high over the crossbar, the in-form England talent beat the ground in frustration before delivering a volley of abuse that finally turned to a despairing plea. Nani did bring a smart save out of Thomas Sorensen close to half-time, but unless he finds some consistency, Ferguson will eventually search for someone better.
All of this would have been irrelevant if Nani's wing partner, Antonio Valencia, had snaffled the golden opportunity that came his way after just nine minutes of a one-sided opening period. There was a fear when Ferguson made Valencia his top-price £17m summer buy the Ecuador might not prove the most clinical finisher. So far, he has had very little chance to either disprove or solidify that theory.
It finally arrived when he burst past former United academy graduate Ryan Shawcross and bore down on Sorensen's goal. Valencia never looked entirely comfortable, a fact borne out by the finish, a disappointing chip that bounced harmlessly wide. Not that Stoke were able to take advantage as the game took on a similar pattern after half-time, although in Nani's case that was enough to herald the arrival of Giggs.
It hardly needs saying that Giggs' experience provides a calmness in possession that the man he replaced lacks. After eulogising so often about the Welshman during their 17 years together at the top, Ferguson acknowledged yesterday that he had run out of things to say about a man who will celebrate his 36th birthday in November.
Instead, these days it is enough to watch. And if he wants to learn, Nani should have been focussed intently on Giggs just after the hour mark when he advanced onto Darren Fletcher's pass then, with no hesitation, rolled a pass straight into the path of Berbatov, who could not miss. The Bulgarian's acknowledgement as he ran towards his team-mate showed what he felt.
Thirteen minutes from time, O'Shea was racing towards Giggs in similar fashion after he had leapt highest to guide a curling free-kick into the far corner. After creating those chances for others, it would have been nice if Giggs could have taken the one provided by Scholes' through ball. Instead, with entry into United's exclusive 150 club and a 100th goal in the Premier League waiting, Giggs fired over. Maybe he is not perfect after all.