Premier League | 19 March 2017 | Riverside Stadium | Attendance: 32,689 | Scorers: Fellaini 30, Lingard 62, Valencia 90+3; Gestede 77
Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a hard-fought 3-1 triumph over relegation-threatened Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium, becoming the first club to record 600 Premier League victories in the process.
Marouane Fellaini’s first-half header was doubled by Jesse Lingard in spectacular fashion just past the hour mark. Substitute Rudy Gestede gave Boro a fighting chance, but Antonio Valencia put the game to bed late on after capitalising on a mistake from Victor Valdes, meaning Jose Mourinho’s men move ahead of Arsenal into fifth in the Premier League.
United came into this one having not played a league fixture for two weeks, though it was the Reds’ 12th match in seven weeks, which led to Mourinho making seven changes in all from Thursday’s win over FC Rostov. David De Gea, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Michael Carrick, Fellaini, Lingard and Marcus Rashford all came in to the starting XI.
Just 62 hours from leaving the field in that Europa League game, United were nearly off to the perfect start after just six minutes as Rashford evaded the Boro defence, but former Red Valdes saved down low when one-on-one.
At the other end, Gaston Ramirez tested De Gea, cutting in from the left and firing a fierce shot at goal, but the Spaniard tipped the ball wide of his far post.
The Reds, playing in blue, went very close to taking the lead on 24 minutes as fantastic team play lead to Juan Mata crossing for Rashford, who was denied by Valdes, before the Boro stopper blocked the re-bound from Valencia.
Mourinho’s men got the deserved opener on the half-hour mark as Young expertly crossed to Fellaini at the back post and he headed past Valdes from a yard out.
Alvaro Negredo had a chance to level moments later but he headed wide, before Marten de Roon pulled the ball back for the former Sevilla man, but the ball failed to reach the Spaniard.
The Boro defence could not handle Rashford’s pace but the youngster couldn’t quite produce the end-product, meaning United went in to the break just one goal up when it could perhaps have been more comfortable.
Possession: Middlesbrough 61% United 39%
Shots at goal: Middlesbrough 5 United 10
Shots on target: Middlesbrough 1 United 4
Corners: Middlesbrough 4 United 3
The Reds started the second half on the front foot with Rashford and Valencia both getting in behind the Boro defence on a couple of occasions, but the final ball lacked quality.
That quality arrived in emphatic style just past the hour mark, however. After Boro had a sustained period of possession, United grabbed that elusive second goal on the counter-attack.
Lingard picked the ball up in his own half and drove at the opposition defence before firing a wicked strike into the top corner from 25 yards for his first Premier League goal of the season, one which resembled his Wembley strike in the FA Cup final last season.
Negredo had two headed opportunities moments later; the first was straight at De Gea, while the second was a glancing header with which he really should have hit the target.
Steve Agnew, who was placed in interim charge following the sacking of Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid, Aitor Karanka, introduced Gestede and it was he who took advantage of a mis-kick from Chris Smalling and fired past De Gea from five yards. It was Boro’s first goal since January.
The home side pushed for a late leveller but Valencia, on his 200th Premier League appearance for United, put the game out of sight, capitalising on a slip from Valdes to rob him of he ball and tap into the empty net. It was his first goal for three years and meant United stretched the unbeaten Premier League run to 18 matches and head into the international break on the back of a vital win.
Possession: Middlesbrough 64% United 36%
Shots at goal: Middlesbrough 10 United 14
Shots on target: Middlesbrough 3 United 6
Corners: Middlesbrough 8 United 3
United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Bailly, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata (Rojo 69), Lingard (Martial 80), Rashford, (Darmian 94).
Subs not used: Romero, Fosu-Mensah, Shaw, Mkhitaryan.
Middlesbrough: Valdes, Barragan, Espinosa, Gibson, Fabio, De Roon, Clayton, Leadbitter (Gestede 67), Ramirez (Traore 67), Downing, Negredo.
Subs not used: Guzan, Stuani, Fry, Guedioura, Forshaw.