Middlesbrough 0-2 Man Utd
By Saj Chowdhury
Manchester United took a step closer to retaining the Premier League title with a comfortable victory at relegation-threatened Middlesbrough.
Ryan Giggs gave the visitors the lead in the first half when his low drive found Brad Jones’ bottom left corner.
Ji-Sung Park scored United’s second when he smashed in Wayne Rooney’s pass following a delightful move.
Boro’s best chance fell to Jeremie Aliadiere whose low shot was saved by the legs of Ben Foster early on.
The league leaders will have been delighted to have come away from the Riverside with three points having performed far below the high standards they are used to.
But, in fairness to United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, he rested key players with the Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final leg in mind and, rather surprisingly, Middlesbrough rarely forced United in to increasing their tempo.
Frankly, Boro, who may now need the help of magician David Copperfield to help them escape the drop, were bereft of many ideas except for flinging the balls into the area which centre-backs Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans coped with admirably.
The home side did have one clear chance when Marlon King played in Aliadiere who fired in a low shot which was saved by the legs of Foster.
At the other end, United’s front pairing of Dimitar Berbatov and Federico Macheda were largely ineffective in the 4-4-2 formation.
So when United scored, it was no surprise it came from the boot of the PFA Player of the Year who is as desperate for his 11th league title as many of his team-mates are for their first.
Rooney found Vidic, who had been up for a set-piece, who in turn laid the ball to Giggs.
The 35-year-old Welshman steadied himself before placing his low effort wide of Jones’ left from the edge of the area.
His veteran partner in the middle, Paul Scholes, 34, should have at least tested Jones after the break, but uncharacteristically failed to find the target with both of his long efforts.
Luckily for Scholes, United are not short of sharp-shooters. Their second came after a sublime move which saw Giggs and Macheda play a one-two before the fabulous Rooney threaded the ball to Korean Park, who powered in a low drive.
It was the highlight of the match and underlined that a supposedly weakened United can still produce outstanding footballing moments.
Manager Gareth Southgate brought on £13m striker Afonso Alves and Didier Digard, but neither could ignite a Boro side flattened by United’s double strike.
They now travel to fellow strugglers Newcastle in what promises to be a tension-filled clash, knowing that they will have to improve tenfold in their remaining three games if they want to stay in the division.
Middlesbrough: Jones, McMahon (Digard 55), Wheater, Huth, Hoyte, O’Neil (Emnes 70), Sanli, Bates, Downing, King (Alves 55), Aliadiere.
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Arca, Adam Johnson, Grounds.
Man Utd: Foster, O’Shea, Vidic, Evans, Evra (Rafael Da Silva 78), Park (Nani 74), Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Berbatov, Macheda (Tevez 55).
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Ronaldo, Anderson, Gibson.
Goals: Giggs 25, Park 51.
Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Manchester United’sRyan Giggs (8.16 on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport’s Player Rater after the match has finished.