There was a time - before this season - where you could never rule Manchester United out of a title race. While they are currently 13 points behind their city rivals and three places outside the top four, in the 2011-2012 season they battled City all the way.
While the men in blue eventually won the title on the last day - courtesy of a Sergio Aguero last-minute winner - United were in it until the last. Even when City were expected to run away with the league there were days such as January 31, 2012 where the race for the title were blown wide open.
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The Red Devils were taking on Stoke City at Old Trafford in a genuine chance to maintain the pressure on City, while the latter faced the tricky trip to mid-table Everton. The Toffees had won just three of their 11 home games to date and although they usually finished strongly were not consistent so far. They were not expected to win easily, but few were predicting a home win in that game.
Stoke were four points above Everton in the table and playing well. What was key for them in the build-up to this game was that, although they had scored just eight goals on the road in the 11 games that preceded their trip to Manchester, they had won four times away. Their combination of dogged defending and physical attacking play was not going to be ideal for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, which included Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez in the lineup.
The City side against Everton was attacking, with Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri all starting but - and not for the first time in recent weeks - they lacked a real cutting edge in front of goal. In the end, to add to the story even more, it was former United player - Darron Gibson, who joined Everton in the summer - that struck the winning goal.
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Stoke might never have a better chance to get something from Old Trafford. In total, the Red Devils had 11 players out injured, including talisman Wayne Rooney while they also handed a debut to Ben Amos in goal. The importance of this game was clear, too, with Chelsea and then Liverpool as United's next two league opponents.
Stoke's physical play proved to be a step too far for them in this game. The first half was very poor in quality, with neither side threatening their opposing goal and the only chances coming from efforts from range. That was until the 38th minute, when Berbatov set Park Ji-Sung away, who was then brought down by a mistimed lunge by Jermaine Pennant. Up stepped Hernandez and from the spot it was first blood United in an important Premier League day.
Meanwhile, at Goodison Park, following a supporter handcuffing himself to Joe Hart's post, the game got underway but the quality there was lacking also. Aguero toiled and Everton battled, but the first half ended goalless with very few shots on goal. By the time Gibson rifled in from Leighton Baines's cross it was a double blow for City as United were 2-0 up.
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It had come from the spot, just as their first. Mike Jones had blown the whistle for his fourth penalty in just two games, but again Stoke could have few complaints. Kenwyne Jones fouled Antonio Valencia, with Berbatov this time beating Thomas Sorensen - who had gone the right way but could not get to it.
At full time in both games, City were still top. However, there had been a swing of three in goal difference, which meant that they now led United by six goals only. It was to stay as close for the rest of the season.