Paul McGuinness’ Under-18s slipped to only their third defeat of the season against a hard-working and stubborn Middlesbrough side at Rockcliffe Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Reds fell to a goal early in the second half and made a barnstorming finish to try and claim something from the game, but the home side hung on to record a keenly-fought 1-0 victory.
Middlesbrough looked determined from the start and were bright and lively during the early exchanges. The visitors rarely appeared threatened although it was the home side who were asking most of the questions with United’s Dean Henderson the busier of the two keepers. He made several important first-half saves that required him to be alert and agile, the first of which came in the ninth minute when he kept a Dael Fry header out.
Boro could have gone in with a half-time lead but Henderson did well to foil further efforts from Tom Molson and Priestley Griffiths. United had their moments at the other end with Sean Goss and Ashley Fletcher both having opportunities to open the scoring.
The pattern of play continued after the break and four minutes into the second half the hosts finally found a way past Henderson when substitute Matty Wyke fired a low shot past the United stopper who was unable to keep it out despite getting a glove to it.
Minutes later and United looked certain to draw level when Demitri Mitchell was sent clear with just keeper Joe Fryer to beat, but the Boro stopper came out on top in the one-on-one. Fletcher was then presented with a great chance following a defensive lapse, but with the goal at his mercy Fryer dived at the striker’s feet to send the ball out for a corner. Fletcher appealed to the referee claiming he should have pointed to the penalty spot but the official was not about to change his mind.
The Reds pulled out all the stops in the closing stages with Mitchell and Fletcher going close to grabbing an equaliser, while Goss thought he should have been awarded a penalty after a challenge from Fryer, but the appeal was waved away.