Warning! Bogey Team Approaching!
United host Middlesbrough tomorrow knowing that the Teessiders have a brilliant record against us.
Last week United faced Aston Villa and few could deny that we relish playing them. The team confirmed yet again that the Villa Park is one of their favourite venues with an impressive 4-1 win.
Now it's the other way round: Middlesbrough is possibly the only team who could claim they enjoy their trips to Old Trafford. They've lost only one of their last six league visits and that was via a penalty in 2002 with Ruud van Nistelrooy converting the spot-kick.
Who could forget our glorious Treble season? Nobody but can you tell me who inflicted our only home defeat of the campaign on us? Yes, you guessed it, Middlesbrough who won 3-2 at Old Trafford.
But at least we won the league in 1999. The most cursed season in this sense was 2001/02: first they dumped us out of the cup at Old Trafford then with United still very much in the contention for the league title, they took all three points with Boksic's goal. We lost ground in the title race and never regained that.
The season 2003/04 started reasonably well and United were four points clear at the top at halfway. The injury to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the eight-month ban of Rio Ferdinand had their effect though: and the problems became evident when Middlesbrough visited Old Trafford again. They took a 2-0 lead and though the Reds clawed their way back, Boro struck again to claim all three points.
In 2004-05 it was little surprise we needed an Alan Smith equaliser to avoid another embarassing defeat: that autumn, United were terribly mediocre and had incredible problems with breaking teams down. But last season was different: we were flying, we were scoring goals with ease - yet Middlesbrough managed to frustrate us yet again.
As Chelsea were set to play on Sunday, United could have opened up a six-point gap over the Londoners with a victory. And it seemed we are on course for it as Scholes' long ball was controlled by Rooney who rounded Schwarzer and allowed Richardson to slot the ball into the empty net.
But after this - horribile dictu! - Boro took control and with help of a minor Ferdinand injury they equalised in stoppage time of the first half and had the better chances in the second as United went forward without any real conviction.
Fortunately, this last stumble against the Boro had no disastrous consequences, thanks to Newcastle's heroics the next day but it's a bit boring that Boro can take something from Old Trafford whenever they want. This year they are disappointing to say the least whereas United finally started flying after a poor start. It is the perfect moment to finally beat them comprehensively (like in the 2005 FA Cup, you remember the Rooney goals, don't you?) to exorcise some of the demons of the past.
Bring it on!
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