Date:Saturday May 2 2009
United are another step closer to a third successive Premier League title: we beat Middlesbrough 2-0 at the Riverside with a very assured performance.
It is no great secret that Middlesbrough are not one of our favourite opponents: we need to go back no further than the last two seasons when draws against Boro almost proved very costly during the run-in. And considering that Liverpool lost at the same ground we had reason to be worried.
And I was worried sick when I saw the starting line-up. Of course Fergie kept an eye on the Champions League semi-final second leg but Giggs and Scholes as central midfielders? We tried that at Craven Cottage and Fulham embarassingly dominated us in the first half, even when we had 11 men on the field.
However, we have to draw two conclusions here: Fulham are much better than Middlesbrough (no offence Boro fans but really) and United are in much better form than we were in March. Indeed, Ryan Giggs was possibly the best player of the game, along with Wayne Rooney who was just about unstoppable again.
It wasn't the prettiest of first halves though. Boro, now in horrible relegation trouble, pressed and harassed us from the off, displaying great commitment but very little creativity or cutting edge. United, meanwhile, looked dangerous with the ball but didn't really create anything. Two long shots from Rooney represented our best chances.
Indeed, Boro got closest to taking the lead when Aliadiere was played in but Foster saved his shot with his feet. Soon after Rooney played the ball up to Vidic who stayed forward after a set piece. The Serbian passed the ball towards Macheda who was blocked by Bates but it fell to Giggs who took a touch then struck it into the far corner. Brilliant goal from the Player of the Year.
We didn't pass the ball really well for the remainder of the first half but still should have added to our lead in the closing minutes: first Berbatov teed up Scholes who fired wide from a good position, then Berbatov himself could have scored but Brad Jones came racing out of his goal and cleared the ball with a last-ditch sliding tackle.
It was a little surprise for me that Macheda came out for the second half: the Italian teenager put himself about and was willing to probe the defence but nothing he tried has come off and he picked up a needless booking. Still, Fergie kept the faith with him and he was almost rewarded with a goal: the tireless Rooney burst into the box from the left, skipped past McMahon and pulled the ball back from Macheda who fired inches wide from the edge of the six-yard box.
You had to feel a goal was coming and the magnificent away support seemed to sense it, too: the travelling fans upped the volume even further while United upped the tempo even higher and soon we had our goal. A brilliant passing move, involving Macheda and Giggs finished with Rooney sending a lovely ball into Park's path and the Korean fired home from the edge of the area. Sweet strike, game over.
United fans get a lot of stick for being quiet at games but the truth is that our away support is possibly the best in the country. Old Trafford is a different thing, I admit but the atmosphere against Arsenal could not be faulted. Today the lads picked up where they left off and the vocal backing was fantastic throughout. After the second goal it turned into celebratory mood - and the players were beginning to enjoy themselves on the pitch as well.
Boro did not give up but they could not even test Ben Foster and if Jonny Evans will be needed against Arsenal, this was a very good warm-up for the youngster. The hosts looked deflated while United stroked the ball around splendidly. We could have boosted our goal difference but Tevez (on for Macheda after 55 minutes), Rooney and co. missed everything.
Eventually, what should have been a very difficult game against a team struggling for their lives became a routine victory - and routine victories are just about the best things when you aim to wrap up a title with a Champions League semi-final coming up.
By the way, the entire midfield that will surely play against Arsenal (Carrick, Fletcher, Anderson) was rested, as was Cristiano Ronaldo and Edwin van der Sar. Rooney doesn't look like needing a rest, indeed, it might have simply unsettled him a little. He's got momentum, he's got the bit between his teeth and it looks like United have it, too.
Seven more points. That's what we need to clinch the title. Man City home, Wigan away, Arsenal home, Hull away. Not the easiest of fixtures but neither can it be called a hellish run-in. Two wins, one draw and a defeat, that's all we need. Surely we can do that?
Date:Saturday May 2 2009
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