Man United finally moved off sixth spot in the Premier League with a victory against Middlesbrough in their first game since sacking Aitor Karanka.
Middlesbrough started the game brightly, dominating possession in the opening 15 minutes. But, they could not turn pressure into goal and it’s not surprising, as they are the lowest scorers in the league, with 20 goals. United did have a really good chance in the first 10 minutes, Marcus Rashford running clear of the defence, before having a shot well saved by Victor Valdes.
Rashford had another chance, when Juan Mata crossed in for him at point blank range, but he shot straight at Valdes and Antonio Valencia had the rebound saved from a narrow angle. At this point United were the dominant team and should’ve been in front.
On 30 minutes, Ashley Young whipped in a deep cross for Marouane Fellaini to head the ball past Valdes into the the back of the net. The only Boro player to force David de Gea into a save in the first half was Gaston Ramirez. It was the performance of a team who had hardly scored this season.
In the second half, in the 62nd minute, United doubled their lead. Jesse Lingard picked up the ball, dribbled a bit, before firing terrifically into the top corner from 25 yards. United invited Boro to apply pressure after they scored their second, and after Chris Smalling made a mess of an easy clearance in the box, Rudy Gestede to halve the deficit. It was their first goal in eight and a half hours of football.
Boro put on the pressure after that, mainly because Gestede had come on and made a difference. Alvaro Negredo had been isolated up until Gestede came on, so it was a difference to have a partner up front. Gestede also clashed with Eric Bailly, which cause a confrontation between the two sides. It also looke to have carried on when the players headed for the tunnel at full-time.
In the third minute of stoppage time, United settled the game through Antonio Valencia. It was a howler from Valdes. The ball was coming towards him, he went to clear it, but he slipped, which allowed Valencia to tap in.
It wasn’t too surprising that United held on. Boro have gone behind 16 times this season and only picked up two points on those occasions. And United haven’t lost after taking the lead in the league, since August 2015. Boro will be disappointed with this one though, having dominated possession for large periods of this game.
United made seven changes to the team which beat FC Rostov in midweek and they were able to ground out a tricky three points. They were able to win even without suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic and injured Paul Pogba. It was their 600th Premier League victory – the first team to reach that mark.
United are on an 18 game unbeaten run in the league, stretching back to October. They are now in the top five for the first time in 184 days. They are in a very good position to make the top four. Middlesbrough on the other hand, are 19th, five points form safety.
Next week is the international break, but after that, United are at home to West Brom on Sunday, the 1 April.