Cristiano Ronaldo News

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Report: Middlesbrough 1 United 2

02/12/2006 19:07, Report by Ben Hibbs

United’s attacking dominance could and should have earned the Reds a more clear-cut victory at the Riverside Stadium.

But a penalty from Louis Saha and a fine header from Darren Fletcher was enough to trump James Morrison’s second half volley and take United six points clear of Chelsea.

Sir Alex made a series of changes to the team that saw off Everton 3-0 in midweek. Vidic returned to the centre of defence to replace Mikael Silvestre. Ronaldo was back on the wings, while Darren Fletcher partnered Paul Scholes in the midfield replacing Michael Carrick. Ryan Giggs and Louis Saha were drafted back in and Scholes

United had the first opportunity inside ten minutes when Saha rose above the Middlesbrough defence and nodded his ball past Mark Schwarzer, but former Chelsea defender Robert Huth anticipated the shot and positioned himself on the line to clear the danger.

Two minutes later, Ronaldo tested the Australian goalkeeper with a shot that shifted and swerved in the air. Schwarzer could only parry the shot, but Giggs’s rapid reactions were not matched with a clinical finish as he sent his header wide.

The Reds soon capitalised on their early pressure. Saha slid a pass through to Ronaldo inside the area. The Portuguese winger went down under Schwarzer’s challenge, but television replays showed there to minimal contact if any. Nonetheless, referee Chris Foy pointed to the spot.

Undeterred by his miss from the spot against Celtic in the Champions League, Saha took responsibility, and placed his shot perfectly, low to Schwarzer’s right.

Middlesbrough, despite their negative five-man defence, pushed on in search of an equaliser. And it almost arrived on 20 minutes when Stuart Downing whipped in a free-kick from the left and Xavier sent his header crashing against the post, before Jonathan Woodgate sent the rebound high over the bar.

This season United have been scintillating away from home. Slick passing and movement has been a prominent feature on the road. And it was similar such fluid football that almost led to the Reds doubling the lead on 35 minutes when Giggs picked a gap in the Middlesbrough defence, Ronaldo hit a first time cross and Rooney applied the finish - unfortunately it just went past the post.

Ronaldo was next to threaten, forcing a fine save out of Schwarzer with a free-kick that deflected off the defensive wall and had the Boro stopper scrambling to his right to tip the shot over the bar.

After the break Middlesbrough switched to 4-4-2 with midfielder James Morrison replacing Jonathan Woodgate, who was suffering from illness. Early on Edwin van der Sar was called into action perhaps more frequently than Sir Alex would have liked. Morrison centred from the right towards Yakubu, and the Boro forward would surely have scored were it not for the giant Dutchman’s quick reactions to come off his line and intercept the ball across the face of goal.

The Reds had plenty of opportunities to extend to the lead; Giggs and Rooney both had chances to go on and score after going through on goal. But, despite controlling the match, Middlesbrough grabbed an equaliser just after the hour through Morrison. Gaby Heinze got his head to Downing’s cross from the left, but it went only as far as Morrison at the far post, who smashed an excellent volley past van der Sar inside the far post.

It merely spurred United on. Three minutes later, the Reds’ attacking prowess paid off. Ronaldo danced through the Boro defence but was forced wide by Schwarzer. However, rather than shoot from a tight angle he cut the ball back to Giggs. The Welshman lofted his cross into the box and the impressive Fletcher met the cross with a powerful header into the far corner.

It was by no means a comfortable finish for the Reds. With such a slender advantage Middlesbrough were always capable of snatching an equaliser. Wes Brown was a late substitute, replacing Ronaldo, to deal with the aerial threat of Roberth Huth, who had moved up front for the home side. Schwarzer even came up for two late corners, but three nervous minutes of stoppage time passed without any damage.

In a week that could shape the fate of United’s season, the Reds earned a valuable victory to move six points clear of Chelsea at the top of the Premiership.

Team Line-ups

United: Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Heinze; Ronaldo (Brown, 87), Fletcher (O'Shea, 75), Scholes, Giggs; Rooney, Saha.
Subs not used: Carrick, Kuszczak, Evra.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer; Huth, Pogatetz, Woodgate (Morrison, 46); Xavier, Cattermole, Boateng, Downing, Taylor; Christie (Maccarone, 71), Yakubu.
Subs not used: Jones (GK), Arca, Parnaby.


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