If any side deserved to win, it was the visitors. But neither team could produce spells of flowing football. Most of the match was spent retrieving balls gone out of bounds.
United struck first. Evra implored Nani to play him the corner kick short. One wall-pass later and Nani was crossing in left-footed. Vidic powered up and headed it across the box. It was barely near Hernandez, but the jumping Mexican twisted in midair like a thrown cat to head in from close range on 26 minutes.
The match remained quite open for the rest of the half. Neither side was overly dangerous. That trend continued into the second half. The game slowed down, somehow, as Manchester tried to edge out the narrow win.
In the 80th minute Stoke equalized after Scholes turned over under little pressure. Even more, Tunjay equalized for Stoke. He cut inside Evra with surprising ease before curling in from 16 yards out at 81 minutes.
It was déjà vu all over déjà vu. The Red Devils lacked bottle with the lead and gave it up like chumps.
But, suddenly, our hero emerged from the din of doubt.
Berbatov controlled, stalling smartly before chipping into Stoke's box. Scholes rose importantly and headed on to Evra. The Frenchman half-volleyed somewhat wildly, but it deflected onto Hernandez who plundered heroically!
Chicharito must earn around six-times less than Wayne Rooney, but who's really more valuable? Certainly Hernandez was today, just as he was against Valencia last month, and just as he was for his national side throughout the World Cup. Meanwhile, Rooney is on vacation in Dubai after demanding, and receiving, an additional 60,000 quid-a-week from a Manchester United club currently relying on his alternate.
United saw out the final 10 minutes to mercifully hold onto the victory beating Stoke away 2-1.
Gary Neville got his 600th cap for the club, but lasted only 45 minutes. Stoke managed to score against the Red Devils for the first time in their Premier League history.
van der Sar: 6. What do goalies earn when they've saved one shot all match but didn't screw anything else up egregiously? A six! But seriously, Stoke sent in a lot of throws and free kicks. Most were cleared by Vidic, while the rest were split between VDS and Ferdinand.
Neville: 4. Did not look at the races again. Should have been sent off, technically, but his first yellow card was dubious anyway. He didn't last past halftime, when Brown came on for him. Poor game, so let's assume he's still not at full fitness. The 600th cap for United ('Grats bro—Ed).
Ferdinand: 7. Quite solid. If this means his fitness is improving, then the Red Devils might not be out of the Premier League race yet.
Vidic: 9. So imperious. Vida had everything to do as City's aerial attack from set pieces was relentless. The Serb was an absolute rock and remains the best center-back in the world over three years' form.
O'Shea: 6. Actually played well today. Importantly, the Irishman performed within his limitations on offense thereby not betraying his inability. On the other side of the ball, he was desired and required as Stoke hammered in on attack.
Nani: 5.5. Dribbled well, passed poorly. He must improve his decision-making and passing ability if he is ever going to evolve further.
Scholes: 5.5. After starting the season in great form, Scholes has fallen off the wagon a bit. His maturity and generalship were useful today, but he turned the ball over needlessly on more than one occasion. The second occurrence led to Stoke's equalizer, but, it may have been Carrick's fault.
Fletcher: 6.5. Better today than in his last few matches. The Scottish captain was United's best player last season, but he has yet to regain that form. However, even playing averagely in an important role makes a huge—and positive—difference for his club.
Evra: 7.5. Employed on the left wing proper for the first time in his United career. Coincidentally, I called for it in my last article (Yes, Fergie reads my editorials). The Frenchman did well in the role, swung in many crosses, showed his good engine, and contributed directly to both goals.
Berbatov: 8. Very good match from the Bulgarian after possibly slipping off form in the last month. His cool touches were vital to retain possession going forward. He was simply masterful engineering the second goal and his overall open play was very good, displaying confidence, awareness, and a range of passing vision and technique.
Hernandez: 9. Huge brace from the Mexican. He's paid a fraction of what Rooney makes but is worth more both on and off the pitch. His first goal was simply awesome. He twisted like Neo in midair and headed home almost impossibly. For the late winner, Chicharito was right where van Nistelrooy would have been, and performed much the same, slotting home in a crowded box to save a near-death United. Hernandez will become a world-class striker in his time: evidence already exists for club and country.
Subs: Brown (reinforced the back line), Carrick (emasculated his own team), Obertan (came on late)
Sorenson: 6. Could do nothing with either goal and had little else to deal with. United only had three shots on goal. Two scored.
Huth: 6. Stoke's defense was solid today despite losing...
Faye: 6. ...leading to United not being exactly fluid nor dominating in the final third.
Shawcross: 6. City lost the match, but its defense escapes great rebuke.
Collins: 5. However, this guy didn't do much and got subbed.
Pennant: 6. Did a few things going forward before being subbed late.
Delap: 6. Several long throws led to some danger but no goals.
Wilson: 5.5. I don't know anything about this player and never really noticed him. It's likely that Fletcher outplayed him, in general, though Wilson probably shackled Scholes at times.
Etherington: 7.5. One of few players to shine offensively for Stoke today. Provided good, natural width on the left and sent in many crosses.
Jones: 6.5. Thankless task against Vidic, but the former Sunderland striker did pretty good on those 10/90 balls that would be 50/50 against most other central defenders.
Walters: 5. Anonymous to my eyes.
Subs: Tuncay (scored a fantastic individual goal), Higginbotham (null), Gudjohnsen (Cool)
Manchester United ended its away malaise all thanks to cult hero Javier Hernandez.
Whatever crusade he is leading, I am on-board. The Mexican was a godsend again today. Hernandez has flat-out saved Man United in each of its two most important competitions this season.
Follow me on Twitter, where I predict everything that'll happen throughout every United season.