MANCHESTER: Jose Mourinho insisted Manchester United had played their best football of the season and could have put seven goals past lowly Stoke City after their 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Substitute Anthony Martial’s first goal of the season was cancelled out eight minutes from time by Joe Allen following a rare error by David de Gea.
But Mourinho refused to be critical either of the goalkeeper or his forwards, who missed a host of chances.
“It’s simple — that was the best performance of the season” said Mourinho, whose side beat reigning champions Leicester 4-1 the previous weekend.
“Three or four-nil at half-time, six or seven-nil at the end of the game… but the result was 1-1.
“That’s football. That’s very undeserved but, I repeat, that was a much better performance than against Leicester.
“Against Leicester, the result made more than the performance,” the Portuguese manager added. “Today, it was the exact opposite.
“That was our best performance by far. We had six, seven, eight great chances to win the game.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, on at least two occasions, wasted glorious chances for United while Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant, on loan from second-tier Derby County and making just his second Premier League appearance at the age of 33, was man of the match.
“In the first minute, their goalkeeper made an unbelievable save,” said Mourinho. “And he kept doing that until the end of the game.
“He started with an amazing save from Zlatan and ended with an amazing save from Zlatan.
“In between we had five, six, seven great chances and complete control of the game. But I never criticise my players for missing chances.”
– ‘Fat result’ –
Mourinho said Grant fully merited his man of the match award — and also suggested that the goalposts deserved some recognition.
“The goalkeeper is the man of the match and deservedly. The post, too. We had some open chances where we could be better but I am never critical of my players,” Mourinho said.
“I can be critical of the quality of the performance, the naive mistakes sometimes but not in front of the goal.
“We should be not just with the three points but a fat result.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes praised back-up goalkeeper Grant, who joined the club on transfer deadline day on a six-month loan.
“He has done great for us, I’m really pleased for him,” said Hughes.
“I don’t think he has played here before. He has travelled with teams here but never actually started a game.
“But you know when you come to places like Old Trafford, everyone has to play well, not least your ‘keeper as well,” the former United striker added.
“They have to keep you in games and make match-defining saves and he made great saves. That is what he is there for. That is what he is paid to do.”
Ander Herrera might have compounded United’s frustrations had referee Robert Madley handed him a straight red card, rather than a yellow, for a studs-up challenge on Allen early in the second half.
Referee-turned-pundit Howard Webb insisted the thigh-high challenge was a clear red card, and Hughes said Allen’s reaction may have prevented Herrera’s dismissal.
“Credit to Joe, he didn’t make a meal of it,” said Hughes.
“At the time, I thought it was mistimed to say the least. He was clearly hurt and down a while and maybe his reaction allowed the referee to just give a yellow.”