02/05/2009 11:45, Report by Steve Bartram
Middlesbrough 0 United 2
A near-perfect afternoon's work at the Riverside Stadium allowed United to open up a six-point lead at the head of the Barclays Premier League table, and rest a number of key players ahead of Tuesday's Champions League semi-final trip to the Emirates Stadium.
Ryan Giggs and Ji-sung Park struck in either half to give the Reds three priceless domestic points, as the annually tricky trip to Middlesbrough evolved into a Saturday afternoon stroll on Teesside. United's defensive resolve and attacking incision bore the hallmark of champions, and barely gave the relegation-haunted hosts a sniff of encouragement.
As expected, Sir Alex Ferguson shuffled his pack with next week's clash with Arsenal at the core of his thinking. Edwin van der Sar, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and the injured Rio Ferdinand were omitted from the squad entirely, while Anderson, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez were held in reserve on the substitutes' bench.
That meant only John O'Shea, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney started after lining up against the Gunners last Wednesday, and Middlesbrough - desperate for points to stave off the very real threat of relegation - were keen to check for any signs that the Reds' collective attentions were already drifting to European matters.
There were certainly none apparent in a keenly-contested opening in which both sides harrassed the other for possession. John O'Shea had to be alert to head Jeremie Aliadiere's cross away from Stewart Downing, while Rooney drilled narrowly over from distance as the first 20 minutes carried little threat of either side opening the scoring.
Boro were the first to genuinely threaten as Marlon King fed Aliadiere deep inside the United area but, with Vidic hurtling across the box to apply vital pressure, the Frenchman could only muster a half-hit shot, which Foster saved well with his feet.