Boro halt United's title charge
By Peter ORourke
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Middlesbrough dented Man Utd's title charge with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Middlesbrough dented Manchester United's title charge with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Mark Viduka's goal right on the stroke of half-time cancelled out Kieran Richardson's early opener to deny United all three points and leave the title race wide open.
The draw leaves United four points clear at the top of the table, but Chelsea have the chance to close the gap when they face Newcastle on Sunday at St James' Park.
United got off to a dream start with Richardson firing them in front after just three minutes to calm any nerves of the home supporters inside Old Trafford.
Jonathan Woodgate hopelessly stepped up in a bid to play offside allowing Wayne Rooney to latch onto Paul Scholes' pass to run clear on goal and after rounding Mark Schwarzer, Richardson was on hand to slide the ball into the empty net.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni had Middlesbrough's first effort of the game on ten minutes when he tried his luck with a speculative shot which flew well wide of the target.
United were enjoying lots of possession, but they were struggling to break down a stubborn Middlesbrough defence.
Cristiano Ronaldo had his first opportunity of the game on 33 minutes with a shot from the edge of the area which failed to trouble Schwarzer.
The Portuguese star, who has come in for criticism from Boro boss Gareth Southgate this season, won a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the box with some wonderful skill to outfox George Boateng, but the chance was wasted as Gabriel Heinze drove his free-kick straight into the Middlesbrough wall.
United suffered a blow a minute before the break when Rio Ferdinand appeared to pull up quickly with a recurrence of the groin strain he picked up in last weekend's FA Cup semi-final with Watford.
Ferdinand tried to play on until the half-time break, but Middlesbrough made United pay by drawing level right on the stroke of half-time with Viduka netting his 10th goal of the season.
Yakubu teed up Stewart Downing out on the left and the England winger curled in a cross which Viduka got ahead of Wes Brown to head home to silence the home crowd.Ferdinand, as expected, did not reappear for the second half with Darren Fletcher replacing him forcing a reshuffle at the back with John O'Shea reverting to central defence and Fletcher coming on at right back.
Sir Alex Ferguson also introduced Ryan Giggs at the start of the second half for Richardson as he looked to get his side back on the attacking front.
Middlesbrough almost grabbed the lead four minutes into the second half when Viduka cleverly turned Brown on the edge of the box to go clear on goal, but Edwin van der Sar was quickly off his line to keep out the Australian's effort with his legs.
The visitors looked to be growing in confidence as the game wore on and Boateng saw a shot from the edge of the area go wide on 54 minutes.
A minute later Ronaldo wasted his best opening of the game when he found space on the edge of the box, but the winger drove his shot wide of the far post.
Middlesbrough continued to look dangerous every time they attacked the United defence and on 58 minutes Lee Cattermole played in Yakubu, but van der Sar was quickly off his line to smother the Nigerian's shot.
United introduced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on 66 minutes for Alan Smith as they went in search of a winner.
However, Boro always looked threatening on the break and Cattermole was unlucky with a fierce left-footed shot from the edge of the box which flew just over the top.
Boateng came to Boro's rescue on 73 minutes when he produced a fine block to keep out Giggs' effort and from the rebound Michael Carrick blazed his shot high into the crowd.
Two minutes later Giggs swung over a dangerous corner which Solskjaer flicked across goal, but no one was on hand in a United shirt to convert the ball.
United should have restored their lead 11 minutes from time when Giggs picked out Rooney inside the box, but under pressure from Boro defenders the England international stabbed his effort just wide.
Seconds later Rooney then tried his luck from long-range, but his shot fizzed wide of the target.
Rooney had another chance to score six minutes from time when Woodgate's headed clearance fell to him invitingly inside the box, but he smashed his volley wide.
United continued to pile on the pressure and Solskjaer flicked a header from Rooney's cross wide of Schwarzer's goal.
The home side were throwing men forward at will and in the final minute Carrick played a one-two with Giggs on the edge of the box before driving his shot over the crossbar.
Middlesbrough had strong claims for a penalty waved away in injury-time when substitute Lee Dong-gook went down in the box under a challenge from O'Shea, but much to the disbelief of Southgate their appeals fell on deaf ears.
|Manchester United||Team Name||Middlesbrough|
|1||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||1|
|11||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||5|
|12||Total Fouls Conceded||17|