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Match Report: Middlesbrough 1 - 2 Manchester United

Manchester United extended their Premiership lead at the top of the table to six points thanks to a Darren Fletcher header at Middlesbrough.

United took the lead when Louis Saha converted the penalty won by Cristiano Ronaldo, who was fouled by Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer.

The home side hit back after the break when substitute James Morrison's low volley found the bottom left corner.

United clinched the win when Fletcher nodded in Ryan Giggs' left-wing cross.

With Chelsea not playing this weekend, leaders United have created more than just a little daylight between themselves and the champions.

And if Sir Alex Ferguson's players continue to turn out the sort of dominant performance they displayed at the Riverside, then the Premiership trophy might find itself back in the Old Trafford cabinet for the first time since 2003.

United were simply brilliant and laid to rest the ghost of last year's corresponding fixture when they were humiliated 4-1.

Although, the attacks often bounced from end to end, Boro often lacked the invention in the final third.

With Giggs, Paul Scholes, Fletcher, Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in full fluent flow, the home defence found themsleves overrun on countless occasions.

The odd one out of United's attack was Saha, who looked slighly jaded and not on the same wavelength as his team-mates.

Saha picked his spot well

Nevertheless, the France striker was on hand to convert the penalty won by Ronaldo, who was adjudged to have been fouled by Schwarzer following a typical driving run.

The Portuguese winger dazzled on the Riverside turf and was unlucky not to score himself, with two scintillating strikes from 25 yards and a fierce free-kick, all saved by the fingers of Schwarzer.

The Boro keeper kept his side in the match going into the break and despite being second best for the first 45 minutes, Gareth Southgate's men were only a goal down.

The Riverside boss made a tactical change at half-time bringing on Morrison for defender Jonathan Woodgate.

It showed Boro's attacking intent and that paid dividends midway through the second half when the young midfielder stole in at the far post to smash his low volley past the reach of Edwin Van der Sar.

Unfortunately for the home supporters, they could only celebrate the goal for two minutes.

Not long after the restart, the United wave broke forward. Rooney played the ball to Giggs who in turn found Ronaldo in the box.

The winger's path to goal was blocked so he returned the ball to Giggs who in turn found the head of Fletcher.

Boro fought valiantly until the end, but to no avail, as United marched on.


Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate:
"Ronaldo made no contact with our keeper.
"Schwarzer tried his best to get out of the way. We've seen it so many times. It's clearly not a penalty."

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson:
"I think that our away form has been fantastic.
"That's got to be needed because it's such a tight top of the league with ourselves and Chelsea.

"The lads showed great resolution, even when Middlesbrough equalised we were straight back at them and they wanted to win it. That's important."


Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Huth, Woodgate (Morrison 46), Pogatetz, Xavier (Parnaby 88), Cattermole, Boateng, Downing, Taylor, Yakubu, Christie (Maccarone 72).
Subs Not Used: Jones, Arca.

Booked: Christie, Cattermole.

Goals: Morrison 66.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Heinze, Ronaldo (Brown 86), Scholes, Giggs, Fletcher (O'Shea 75), Rooney, Saha.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Evra, Carrick.

Booked: Scholes, Vidic, Saha.

Goals: Saha 19 pen, Fletcher 68.

Att: 31,238

Ref: C Foy (Merseyside).

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After the game, Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate launched a scathing attack on the Portuguese winger, saying: "Ronaldo has a history of it. Our keeper has done everything to get out of the way, but the lad has gone down once again." When asked if he felt cheated by Ronaldo, Southgate said: "Yes - it's as simple as that.”

The next day, the result was overshadowed by Southgate’s comments, with the back pages filled with pictures of Ronaldo and “CHEAT” emblazoned on top of them.

Today, however, before United played Boro in the Cup, a pre-match interview with Southgate was shown on the BBC. He admitted he was wrong with his judgement on Ronaldo and agreed with Sir Alex Ferguson, saying that he felt the player had tripped, and didn’t go down intentionally.

This of course is too little too late, and no public apology has been made to Ronaldo for the slamming Southgate gave him. The Boro boss said he’d watched the tapes after the game, three months ago, yet he has waited until now to confess he was wrong, and in doing so, made no attempt to say sorry to Ronaldo for labelling him a cheat for his part in the penalty.

Will this admission make the back pages of the papers tomorrow? Will this admission be given a shred of the attention Southgate’s initial comments were given? I won’t hold my breath.

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