Alves checks United charge
Afonso Alves scored his first goals for Boro as Man Utd's title charge was checked by a 2-2 draw.
Last Updated: 06/04/08 5:23pm
Afonso Alves scored his first goals for Middlesbrough as Manchester United's charge towards the title was checked by a 2-2 draw at the Riverside.
Club record signing Alves struck in each half for Boro, who briefly looked like clinching a famous victory until Wayne Rooney equalised on 74 minutes.
United were ahead in a pulsating game on a snow-hit Teesside after 10 minutes when Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 37th goal of the season from close range.
But Boro showed admirable attacking intent and equalised on 35 minutes when Alves raced in behind the United defence to clip a fine finish beyond Edwin van der Sar.
The hosts took the lead on 56 minutes when Alves again nipped in behind a slipshod United back-line to curl another excellent shot past the exposed Van der Sar.
United's battling qualities came to the fore in the closing 20 minutes and they were rewarded with an equaliser when Rooney's close-range effort deflected past Mark Schwarzer to leave the leaders three points clear of nearest pursuers Chelsea.
The biggest crowd of the season at the Riverside witnessed a hugely-entertaining encounter, Alves warming things up with a promising early run into the United box.
The home fans were left cold however when their marking completely went to pieces and United scored a 10th-minute opener.
First Michael Carrick found himself in the clear at the rear of the area to pick up possession from a corner, and then Ronaldo drifted away from his marker to fire home his cross from inside the six-yard box.
Alves showed a couple of flashes, including a decent downward header, as Boro tried to reply then Ryan Giggs hit the side-netting after some stylish interplay between Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
Jeremie Aliadiere was then guilty of a horrendous miss after Middlesbrough broke at speed, the French striker pulling the ball wide from a one-on-one position.
A thrilling run from Ronaldo saw the Portuguese winger leave Gary O'Neil trailing in his wake but when he cut into the penalty box his finish for once lacked composure and was sliced wide.
Alves won a free-kick against Ferdinand 30 yards out and took it himself. It was a terrific effort, curling and dipping wickedly but straight at van der Sar, who was up quickly again to claw away the follow-up header from Emmanuel Pogatetz.
But the Brazilian was not to be denied again and 10 minutes before the break he scored an excellent equaliser.
O'Neil's long pass from the right caught United ball-watching, Aliadiere's flick-header took it into Alves' path and he kept his cool to lift the ball over the sliding Van der Sar with his left foot.
Boro came agonisingly close to taking the lead when George Boateng found Stewart Downing on his own at the far post but Van der Sar was out like lightning to block the shot.
Ronaldo was then furious again when a powerful strike appeared to be blocked by Andrew Taylor's arm - but referee Mike Riley only awarded a corner.
Mad with excitement
Alves' equaliser had been the first goal conceded by United since February 23 so when he put Boro ahead in the 56th minute, the majority of the 33,952 crowd went mad with excitement.
Again Aliadiere played a part, the ball coming off his head into Alves' stride and the Brazilian this time finished expertly with his right foot.
United were well and truly rocked and Alves nearly sealed the perfect hat-trick but his header struck Ferdinand's knee.
Downing then embarked on a penetrating run that saw him outpace two defenders but his drive from a tight angle only found the side-netting.
Rooney, who had looked close to boiling point, finally found an outlet to his frustration when substitute Park Ji-sung beat Taylor and centred for the England striker to clip home from close range off a defender's leg.
With 10 minutes to go, Alves departed to a standing ovation as Southgate sent on Tuncay to hunt for a winner.
As the clock ran down the tension increased and both sides had chances to steal it in a frantic finish.
First, Van der Sar pulled off a diving save to deny Aliadiere then Rooney dragged his effort wide from a threatening position.
Tuncay looked poised to win it in injury-time after a brilliant turn - but Van der Sar once again proved United's saviour to deny the Boro substitute.
|Middlesbrough||Team Statistics||Manchester United|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|6||Shots on Target||3|
|4||Shots off Target||7|