Sunday, 19 March 2017

Match report: Middlesbrough 1-3 United

United made it 18 league games unbeaten and moved into fifth position with a deserved and hard-fought win at struggling Middlesbrough.

In the Teessiders first match since the sacking of Aitor Karanka on Thursday, United were missing marquee summer signings Paul Pogba through injury and the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Pogba’s replacement, Marouane Fellaini, headed United in front on the half hour before Jesse Lingard’s brilliant 25-yarder doubled the lead.

The visitors were pegged back when Rudy Gestede halved the deficit, but Antonio Valencia capitalised on former United keeper Victor Valdes’ error late on.

Under the caretaker stewardship of Karanka’s assistant Steve Agnew, goal-shy Boro were the lowest scorers in the league and had slipped into the bottom three after a torrid recent run.

United were almost off to the perfect start after six minutes when Marcus Rashford burst clear but was thwarted by the onrushing Valdes.

Opposite number David de Gea saved well from Gaston Ramirez but the Reds were dominant and nearly capped a wonderful team move with a 24th-minute opener.

Jesse Lingard found Juan Mata who crossed for Rashford and Valdes blocked, before the former Red also somehow kept out Valencia’s follow up.

The breakthrough was not long in coming though as United moved ahead on the half hour mark.

Ashley Young picked out Fellaini with a superb cross and the big man headed in at the near post from close range.

Former City man Alvaro Negredo headed wide, before Marten de Roon pulled the ball back for the onrushing Spaniard, but he was unable to connect.

United frequently threatened to hit Boro with the pace of Rashford, Lingard and Valencia, and that quality arrived in emphatic style just past the hour mark.

Valencia found Lingard who collected the ball from deep, drove at the back-pedalling Boro defence before he unleashed a dipping 25-yarder reminiscent of his FA Cup final goal last season. 

Negredo should have done better with a pair of headers, but Agnew then introduced Gestede and the change paid dividends.

It was he who took advantage of Chris Smalling’s mis-kick to sweep home past De Gea and give Boro hope of an unlikely fightback.

The revitalised hosts pushed a late leveller, but United weathered the flurry and put the result beyond doubt in stoppage time.

Valdes slip allowed Valencia to rob him of the ball and tap in his first of the season to send United fifth ahead of the international break.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Jesse Lingard 

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