Trailing with 12 minutes to play at Old Trafford, Manchester United needed a late two-goal surge to rescue a victory and avoid yet another embarrassing home defeat this season.
Stoke City got off to a superb start taking the lead in the 4th minute thanks to the combination of Erik Pieters and Peter Crouch, their first goal in over five and a half hours of play. Pieters' initial run was the genesis of the chance as be blew through three United players before sending a cross in front of David De Gea was that met by a sliding Peter Crouch. De Gea made an excellent save to deny the Stoke striker but he couldn't control the rebound and Crouch toe poked it over the line.
Ten minutes later Crouch came within inches of doubling the lead, directing a headed down ball at the far post from Jonathan Walters. Despite being wrapped up by Jonny Evans, Crouch managed to get one of his giraffe-esque legs past the defender but his deflection went over the crossbar.
Stoke missed another fantastic opportunity in the 29th minute when Walters' close range effort was blocked by De Gea. The United keeper made a great save but he was certainly helped by Walters kicking the ball right at him, rather than at the large amount of empty space on either side of the Spaniard.
Wayne Rooney finally created United's first really dangerous chance in the 32nd minute, forcing a fingertip save from Asmir Begović. Rooney's rising shot from 20-yards out looked set to sneak in under the crossbar but the Bosnian keeper was able to extend and push the ball over the bar.
As usually happens when you don't put your opponent away, they come back.
In the 43rd minute Nani's cross found Wayne Rooney at the far post but his header on frame was denied by the extended arm of Begović. Unfortunately for the Potters the rebound went right to Robin Van Persie near the penalty spot and he blasted a shot into the net to pull United even at 1-1.
Less than a minute later Stoke were back in front as Marko Arnautović's free kick skipped off De Gea's fingers and then off the underside of the cross bar before settling in the back of the net. The opportunity never really should have presented itself but a needless foul by Phil Jones created the free kick and opened the door for Stoke to retake the lead at halftime.
The second half was defined by United having a ton of possession and Stoke doing a ton of defending ... and bad tackling. Several Stoke players picked up yellow cards as the Potters did their best to blog up the attacking third for United and prevent them from passing through.
Finally, with 12 minutes left to play, a momentary lapse allowed United to even the match at 2-2. Stephen Ireland allowed Rooney just enough space on a corner to head the ball up and over Begović and into the top corner.
Two minutes later Javier Hernandez was left unmarked at the far post and the Mexican international buried a header past at the far post to surge in front 3-2. Patrice Evra deserves plenty of credit for picking out Chicharito and delivering a lovely cross for him to finish.
Manchester United: De Gea, Evra, Jones, Evans, Smalling (Valencia 76'), Carrick, Cleverly (Hernandez 68'), Nani (Januzaj 58'), Rooney, Kagawa, Van Persie
Goals: Van Persie (43'), Rooney (78'), Hernandez (80')
Stoke City: Begović, Pieters, Huth, Shawcross, Cameron, Palacios (Whelan 70'), Arnautović (Wilson 45'), N'Zonzi, Walters, Ireland (Adam 82'), Crouch
Goals: Crouch (4'), Arnautović (45')