29/12/2008 21:53, Report by Ben Hibbs
United 1 Middlesbrough 0
minutes, with a shot that the Boro goalkeeper palmed away. Seconds later Ronaldo’s jinking turn and cross forced another intervention from the Boro stopper. On 15 minutes the Reds winger’s free-kick, left of the area and 25 yards from goal, fizzed wide, while a second, deflected Ronaldo set-piece worried Turnbull as he tracked its rerouted flight into his arms.
It took Boro until midway through the half to register an effort on goal. A smart feint from Afonso Alves evaded Rafael and Nemanja Vidic’s attentions, but his shot was high and wide. United immediately countered with a neat one-two between Berbatov and Rooney allowing the Englishman to cut the ball back for Ronaldo. Unfortunately his left-foot shot went the wrong side of the post.
Ronaldo, Rafael and Carrick all had shots blocked inside the area, while Vidic sent a header crashing wide, infusing frustration – if plenty of action to warm a chilled Old Trafford crowd, with a feeling that Middlesbrough were there for the taking.
Rooney had United’s last – and possibly closest - opportunity before the half remarkably ended goalless. Ronaldo’s glancing header found his team-mate surging down the right channel, and Rooney’s first-time left-foot volley forced a fingertip save from Turnbull.
The second half started at a much slower pace, with chances far less forthcoming. The tempo of United’s game appeared to slow, too, which is why Sir Alex introduced Paul Scholes into midfield in place of Fletcher. Gary Neville also came on for Rafael, but not before Tuncay had sent a diving header agonisingly close to goal.
United immediately stepped it up a gear. Park went on a surging run from midfield and forced Turnbull into yet another save, before Scholesy miscued one of his speciality first-time volleys from the resulting corner.