Premier League – United held by plucky Boro

Eurosport

Afonso Alves got his first goals in English football when Middlesbrough held Premier League leaders Manchester United to a 2-2 draw at the Riverside.

FOOTBALL 2007-2008 Premier League Middlesbrough Middlesbrough-Man United Alves - 0

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney were on target for the Reds in a genuinely even match that could have gone either way. United almost gifted their hosts goals on several occasions with poor defending and goalkeeping, but also challenged for a winner.

United started brightly, taking a 10th-minute lead when Emmanuel Pogatetz failed to clear a Ryan Giggs corner, allowing Michael Carrick to pick out Ronaldo for his 27th Premier League goal of the season.

Soon afterwards, Ronaldo combined with Rooney before sending a delightful flick wide to Giggs who could only shoot into the side-netting. United were threatening to overrun Boro; Rooney saw a shot blocked by Luke Young and Ronaldo fired wide after a mesmerising run down the left wing.

But Boro got themselves back into the game by putting pressure on a nervy-looking Edwin van der Sar. The Dutchman flapped at several crosses and almost handed Pogatetz a great chance to score when he spilled Alves’s 33rd-minute free kick. Jeremie Aliadiere should have netted earlier, dragging a shot well wide when put clear, but he compensated by turning provider for Alves, who drilled into the bottom right from the edge of the box after slack marking from United’s defence.

The champions-elect were all over the place – Van der Sar made a superb reflex stop from Stewart Downing after yet more hesitancy from keeper and defenders alike. However, Ronaldo felt his side should have been given a penalty just before the break when Andrew Taylor seemed to block his effort with a hand.

The second half began evenly enough with both sides trading attacks but Boro went closest when Pogatetz saw a close-range effort blocked following more panicky defending from the Reds.

And it was Gareth Southgate‘s men who took the lead. Alves got his second goal when United again failed to win a simple ball. Aliadiere beat Wes Brown to a header, sending the Brazilian free past Rio Ferdinand and allowing him to clip the ball past Van der Sar.

It could and should have been 3-1 soon afterwards. Aliadiere was unmarked in the box but inexplicably headed across goal when it was easier to score; United were only saved by an acrobatic knee-clearance by Ferdinand from under Alves’s nose.

The match degenerated into a scrappy affair, not helped by the driving snow, and things went from bad to worse for United when Ferdinand limped off with a knee injury after being turned inside-out by Stewart Downing, who then forced Van der Sar into a smart near-post stop after a tricky run down the left.

But the visitors got back on track when Park Ji-Sung – brought on for a chilly-looking Carlos Tevez – got into space on the right wing and picked out Rooney with a simple cross for an even simpler finish.

With just over a quarter of an hour remaining, United sensed blood. Park and Ronaldo both went close, although Van der Sar almost gifted Alves a hat-trick when he fell over in trying to complete a routine clearance, just recovering in time to flick the ball away with an outstretched leg.

There were then more injury worries for United – already missing Nemanja Vidic – when Ronaldo started limping during the latter stages with all three substitutes already used.

It just was not happening for the reigning champions despite incessant pressure for the latter stages. Rooney went close with a header and shot while Scholes saw an effort blocked, while Middlesbrough could have won the match in injury-time when substitute Tuncay executed a superb turn to free himself in the area only to be denied by an excellent save from Van der Sar.

The 2-2 draw was a fair result and one that sees United’s lead at the top cut to three points, with Arsenal also three behind second-placed Chelsea. Middlesbrough, meanwhile slip two spots to 14th following wins for Wigan and Sunderland.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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