Premier League – Berbatov bags winner for United

Manchester United continued the defence of their Premier League title with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough at Old Trafford.

FOOTBALL 2008/09 Premier League Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov scores against Middlesbrough - 0

Striker Dimitar Berbatov scored the only goal of the game on 69 minutes to leave United seven points behind league leaders Liverpool with two games in hand.

Berbatov reacted quickly when Michael Carrick‘s cross rebounded off defender David Wheater to fire into the top corner from the centre of the penalty area to seal the win.

The Bulgarian was starting in place of Carlos Tevez – who has returned to Argentina for what has been described as a “family issue” – and he took a long time to get fully involved in the match

United had plenty of chances to open the scoring throughout the game before the eventual winner, with Rafael da Silva, Park Ji-sung, Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo all missing good chances.

Ronaldo was involved in almost all of the key moments in the first half, but missed half a dozen chances to put his side ahead before the break.

In the final act of the first half, he felt he was obstructed by Emanuel Pogatetz in the penalty area as the pair tussled for a corner kick and the Boro defender appeared to have grabbed the Portuguese around the neck as the ball came in.

However, referee Martin Atkinson did not award the penalty that Ronaldo vehemently appealed for.

United will probably have few games this season as one-sided as this but they were in real danger of stumbling in their bid to close the gap on Liverpool.

Credit must also go to Middlesbrough, especially goalkeeper Ross Turnbull, who put in a disciplined performance which very nearly paid off with a point.

Turnbull was in the action early on turning aside Rooney’s 18-yard low curling effort and then palming Ronaldo’s resulting cross away from the lurking Berbatov.

Ronaldo sliced horribly wide and Park had a shot deflected for a corner as United continued to dominate against but found Boro’s defending resolute.

Then two Ronaldo free-kicks from either side of the pitch went wide and straight at Turnbull.

Midway through the half Afonso Alves‘ half-hit shot was blocked by Carrick and then shot over after easily turning Vidic to give United a warning they could not afford to switch off.

Ronaldo scuffed Rooney’s cross wide with his weaker foot when he should have hit the target with the Portugal winger also forcing another low save out of Turnbull.

Right-back Rafael also got in on the act when he blazed into the side-netting when the goalkeeper palmed Rooney’s left-wing cross into his path.

Rooney should have given the hosts the lead when he sprang the offside trap in the 35th minute but inexplicably chose to pass rather than shoot and although they won a corner Vidic headed a good chance wide.

Two minutes before half-time Chris Riggott produced a superbly-timed block inside the penalty area to deny Berbatov just as he was about to shoot.

United were quickly into their stride after the break, although Carrick was caught in two minds as to whether to pass or shoot and ended up scuffing the ball straight to Turnbull.

Boro’s determination to keep a clean sheet saw Matthew Bates clatter into Rooney, taking the man and the ball, but Atkinson ruled it a fair challenge.

However, Park was the first to be booked after hacking down Julio Arca in the 53rd minute.

Boro’s first chance of the half saw Alves’ shot deflect for a corner off Vidic after a quick counter-attack.

Tuncay could have given the visitors a shock lead in the 62nd minute when he dived to meet Bates’ cross into the six-yard area but diverted the ball wide.

An indication things were not going United’s way was when Park’s shot was stopped by Vidic from Rooney’s left-wing free-kick.

Moments later the South Korea midfielder was denied again from long range by the outstanding Turnbull, with Ronaldo driving wide on the turn from United’s next attack before Berbatov finally made the breakthrough.

Park then produced a contender for miss of the season when he somehow ballooned over from three yards from substitute Gary Neville‘s cross.

Turnbull again stopped a Ronaldo thunderbolt as United pressed for a second with Carrick curling a 20-yard shot wide.

However, United had done enough to close the gap on Liverpool to seven points with two matches in hand.

Sporting Life / Eurosport

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