CARLOS Tevez ensured Manchester United made a successful return to domestic business and kept up the pressure on the Barclays Premier League leaders.
The striker scored the vital goal with seven minutes remaining to end 10-man Stoke's brave resistance, shortly after Andy Wilkinson was ordered off.
However it took United a while to get going after they only arrived back on Monday from Japan.
The new Club World Cup champions only got into their stride in the second half at the Britannia Stadium.
They were forced to make a late change with Jonny Evans replacing Rio Ferdinand who injured his back in the warm-up, and they struggled to get their game together in the first half.
Stoke made a bright start and Ricardo Fuller got on the end of a ball from Rory Delap, but Paul Scholes took the ball off his toes as he was about to shoot.
Delap then delivered an inswinging cross after 13 minutes which was deflected to safety by Evans.
United again found themselves on the back foot two minutes later when Delap picked out Fuller but Edwin van der Sar got a vital touch.
Delap then showed he had shrugged off a nagging shoulder injury to launch one of his trademark throw-ins but the goalkeeper was equal to it.
United, however, were beginning to spray the ball around and Wayne Rooney got on the end of a cross from Gary Neville but only succeeded in sending his header into the arms of Thomas Sorensen.
Then Rooney made space following another delivery from Neville and squared the ball across the face of the goal.
However he put too much weight on the pass and it skidded away from Carlos Tevez, who was lurking in the six-yard area.
Abdoulaye Faye was then penalised for a challenge on Scholes 20 yards out.
There was a buzz of anticipation among the United fans as Cristiano Ronaldo shaped to take the free-kick, but he only succeeded in sending his effort into the wall.
Ronaldo protested that there was an infringement but referee Chris Foy would have none of it.
Stoke then conceded another free-kick in a dangerous area and Giggs floated the ball in. Nemanja Vidic escaped his marker but sent his header into Sorensen's arms.
United pushed forward at the start of the second half and Tevez cut inside but Sorensen turned his effort around the post after 47 minutes.
A mix-up in the Stoke defence three minutes later saw the ball land at the feet of Tevez, however the striker seemed startled at being given a chance and steered his effort wide.
Sorensen again had to look alert in the 57th minute following a 25-yard snap shot from Scholes.
However play broke down the other end and Van der Sar did well to parry a thunderbolt from Fuller a minute later.
Glenn Whelan swung in the corner and Danny Pugh peeled away from his marker but headed over the top.
Stoke were continuing to ask questions of the visitors and Van der Sar parried Delap's close-range effort, which was possibly intended as a cut-back for a team-mate, after a clever free-kick in the 68th minute.
Stoke were reduced to 10 men in the 72nd minute when Wilkinson was dismissed following his second yellow-card offence, a heavy challenge on Ronaldo.
Manager Tony Pulis responded by taking off Delap and bringing on central defender Andrew Davies, but Stoke could not cling on and United grabbed the winner in the 83rd minute through the industrious Tevez.
Neville started the move and delivered the ball into the area where Berbatov controlled it with ease.
He played it on to Tevez, who scored only his second league goal of the campaign, at the back post