United took a two-goal lead and then went ultra-defensive, and Middlesbrough might have taken advantage but for a goalkeeping howler
And with that, I’m off. It’s been a blast. Join Daniel Harris right now for Tottenham v Southampton, right here. Bye!
Steve Agnew has a chat too:
If we show that kind of commitment and intensity from now to the end of the season then we have a real chance of staying in this league. It is a relief to get a goal, but the ball’s been bouncing, dropping, not quite gone in. I just felt when we scored that goal we had United defending the box for their lives, but we didn’t quite get the bounce of the ball for the equaliser.
Of course I want to be manager. It’s a club I have a big affection for. I love the people in the area and the passionate crowd. It’s just a pleasure to be in charge of a team, and see a team respond like they did. I know in the coming games we’ll take the same fighting spirit until the end of the season.
José Mourinho talks on the telly:
What was good? The attitude. The desire. And our way of thinking. We don’t have A, B, C, D, E, F, G, but we have L, M, N, S, O, P. We started the game really well, Valdes made three fantastic saves before our first goal. We controlled everything until our second goal and then they changed the game, they start putting long balls in the box, we decided to play with an extra defender but with the mistake of letting them push too much into our box. Then there was a fighting 15 minutes when they didn’t have chances but the game was alive until the last second. It’s fantastic because we managed in the same week to go to the quarter-final of the Europa League which was an important target for us, and we got these three points. So we still have two doors open to play Champions League football for next season. It was too much for us: injured players, tired players, suspended players. These guys today they were magnificent.
And here’s his reaction to the third goal:
Hmmm. Didn’t he also change the play by bringing on Rojo for Mata?
Apparently there were some tunnel-based afters, when the players left the field. Half the United team were at the edge of the tunnel, definitely not involved but spoilsportishly blocking the TV cameras.
Jesse Lingard talks!
We had a lot of pace up front with me, Marcus and Antonio. But we had the ball-players in midfield to dictate the game, so it was an all-round good game. As I was looking for the pass there weren’t many options open so I took it on myself, and luckily it went in. Marcus has put a shift in for the team today. He was a nuisance up front, and it was good playing with him.
Marouane Fellaini also talks!
It was a great ball from Ash and I tried to finish well. It was a good goal. It was tough in the end. They pushed, they played long balls, their physical presence. We dealt with it. We had a lot of defenders today. So we did well.
Just what was Gestede up to here? Was he briefly tempted to attempt a Suárez-style nosh?
Apparently United were sixth for 133 consecutive days. Finally, they have broken free of the evil shackles of six.
Manchester United are now officially the fifth-best team in the land. Not on today’s evidence they’re not, but then they were terribly tired.
90+5 mins: And that’s it! Not a great United performance by any means, but the points are theirs.
90+4 mins: United take off a forward – Rashford – and bring on a defender – Darmian.
90+3 mins: The ball is played back to Valdés, who has an easy clearance to make. Valencia makes a token effort at closing him down. Then the keeper slips, and Valencia runs onto the suddenly loose ball and taps into an empty net!
What a howler from Valdes! Disastrous! Calamity!
90+2 mins: Boro have a corner, and load the penalty area with seven red shirts. It’s headed clear.
90+1 mins: As the fourth official raises a board with a number four on it, all sorts of handbags break out on the pitch. It starts with Gestede shoving Bailly, and ends with the referee talking to a couple of people but punishing nobody.
90 mins: Over the last 20 minutes United have done a passable impersonation of a League One side defending a 0-0 draw against a relegation-haunted top-flight team.
90 mins: Boro have a long throw, Gestede flicks it on, and Negredo has a half-chance on the volley. He doesn’t take it.
88 mins: De Roon finds Negredo, just inside the penalty area, and he bulldozers past Smalling but doesn’t get past Jones, and though he does get in a shot it’s from a silly angle, taken while he’s already on the ground, and goes out for a goal kick.
86 mins: This is a bit of a mess. Boro are sending in high, deep crosses at the earliest opportunity, normally from barely halfway into United’s half, towards a substitute striker who appears to be injured. United are playing a flat back six, get men out of defence only slowly, and as an added bonus De Gea also appears to be injured.
83 mins: Outrage from the stands as Michael Carrick kicks De Roon, falls over and wins a free kick.
82 mins: United have really reacted astonishingly negatively to being two goals up against Middlesbrough, and may pay for it.
80 mins: United take Lingard, apparently slightly injured, off and bring on Martial. Meanwhile Gestede, obviously affected by something pretty much since his arrival, has his hamstring taped up.
79 mins: With Traoré on the left Downing is back on his more natural left, and with United now playing with a six-man defence they’re raining crosses on a team that’s no longer set up for attacking. And the crowd are howling.
78 mins: A long cross from the left is headed back across goal by Negredo, clumsily half-cleared, headed down again, even more clumsily not-cleared by Smalling, and then sidefooted in by Gestede from five yards or so.
They’ve only gone and scored! No really, they have!
75 mins: Howls of protest from the home fans as the game is delayed while Rashford does his shoelace. Double knot, obviously.
74 mins: Mourinho is an utterly pragmatic manager. Sometimes it is good enough to be good enough.
72 mins: Traoré zips down the wing and crosses long to Downing, who turns back towards Negredo. For a moment it looks like Boro are actually attacking convincingly, but then Rojo ruins it by booting clear.
70 mins: Rojo has been deployed as a deliberate countermeasure to Gestede.
69 mins: A change for United: Rojo is coming on, and Mata going off.
69 mins: Traoré flies down the right in thrilling style, and through his cross is blocked, it’s still enough to get the crowd roaring.
68 mins: A double substitution for Boro: Traoré and Gestede are on, Leadbitter and Ramirez are off.
67 mins: Boro do attacking! It’s a Ramirez cross from deep on the left that curls to Negredo, who dives ahead of Jones and heads wide!
66 mins: Lingard screams forward from midfield again. In full flight, galloping free, with no one in front of him attempting to challenge, he’s a lovely sight. This time when he gets to the edge of Boro’s box he passes to Rashford, who gives the ball away.
65 mins: De Gea has to make a save! Fine, it wasn’t a very hard save. And yes, it was Bailly’s header rather than anything Middlesbrough did themselves. But still, it’s the best Boro have done this half.
63 mins: That’s excellent play. Bailly steals the ball on the edge of United’s area and passes to Mata in the centre circle. Lingard steals the ball from his toe and surges forwards and then, with Rashford to his right and Mata to the left, keeps surging, surges a bit more, and then, from 22 yards or so, thumps goalwards. There’s no stopping that one.
Blammo! Lingard doesn’t play in Rashford for a change, and just smashes it right in the top corner instead!
61 mins: Barragan is picked out on the right wing. He brings the ball down and tries to spear in a cross with the outside of his right foot. He hits it with the inside of his left foot, and so clears it back into midfield instead.
59 mins: Leadbitter has the ball in midfield, as Negredo bursts through a gap in a static United defence. The pass doesn’t come.
55 mins: Rashford appears to have been affected by the sheer number of times he’s been played through today without anything coming of it. Lingard does it again, but Rashford looks uncertain about what he should be doing, delays when he might have crossed to an unmarked Lingard, and eventually blasts a shot straight at a defender.
53 mins: The ball is played up to Negredo, who controls, stops, and waits for support. And then he waits a bit longer. And then another while. By the time he’s got anyone to pass to, United have seven men behind the ball with more on their way.
50 mins: Rashford speeds towards the area again, this time from the right, and finds Valencia keeping up on the right, but the attempted return pass-cum-pull-back is turned behind, and as an added bonus hits Valencia on its way. Goal kick, but one of these Rashford bursts is going to bear fruit at some point.
48 mins: Ding ding! Major landmark alert! Middlesbrough have now played eight hours of league football since they last scored a goal. They celebrate with a corner, which Fellaini heads clear.
46 mins: Smalling tries to diving-head the ball back to his keeper, misses it, dives on top of it and thus inadvertently chests it back instead. As intended, De Gea ends up with the ball. Less happily, everybody’s laughing at Smalling.
46 mins: Peeeeep! United get half two under way.
The teams are back out, with the Riverside bathed in spring sunshine.
An entertaining game. United should have had more, with Rashford a perpetual menace for the Boro backline and Valencia and Lingard also playing brightly, but the home side have had their moments, and a single-goal lead isn’t enough for the visitors to feel at all comfortable.
45+1 mins: We don’t quite reach the end of the minute, because when the ball goes out for a United goal kick with a couple of seconds left the referee sagely decides there’s not much point in waiting for it to be taken.
45+1 mins: Into stoppage time, of which there’ll be a minute or so.
45 mins: A lovely run from Rashford, who flies from halfway to the edge of the area, but then he fails to pick out Valencia, unmarked and in all sorts of space on the right, and attempts instead to find Mata, and fails.
41 mins: Rashford finds himself in a foot race with Bernardo again, and flies past him as if on a flying motor scooter. Nothing comes of it, but sooner or later it surely will.
38 mins: Now Ramirez, back on the left, sends in a low cross and Fellaini clumsily puts it behind, the kind of clearance that while not actually going very near the goal, still makes everyone in the stadium think it might have gone in, and involuntarily say “oooh”.
36 mins: Middlesbrough again come quite close to scoring, but without even shooting. De Roon is played into the area and into space, and after he pulls the ball back Phil Jones slips and falls over, giving any attacker racing towards the back post an absolutely open goal to aim at. Nobody’s there.
34 mins: Young jinks and shimmies on the left, then finally passes back to Lingard outside the area, whose shot is deflected wide. Smalling heads wide from the corner.
33 mins: Clayton goes in the book for getting in the way of Carrick’s attempt to take a quick free kick on the half-way line.
32 mins: Nearly a replay of that goal, only this time it’s Fabio crossing, and Negredo meeting it at the far post. Only this time the header isn’t on target.
An excellent cross, an excellent header and United lead! Fellaini was the only blue shirt in the penalty area as Young sent the ball in, but it dipped perfectly above all defenders and onto the Belgian’s forehead beyond the back post, and he did the rest!
28 mins: Fabio is still a key influence on this game, though recently he hasn’t been notable for attacking, but for allowing Valencia to repeatedly make hay down United’s right.
27 mins: A fine move by United ends with the ball at the feet of Valencia on the right. The attack is not exactly helped by the fact that Mata was taken out at the edge of the penalty area, but still there were three people to aim for, and Valencia’s low cross was behind them all.
25 mins: Interesting you should ask, as he’s just sent Negredo to the floor with a shoulder-cum-arm-off, and been booked for his pains.
23 mins: Superb double save from Valdés! Mata gets down the left and sends the ball in low to Rashford, who turns it goalwards from four yards but finds Valdés in the way. The ball rolls to Valencia to the right of the penalty area, and his first-time effort was creeping in at the near post until the Spanish gloveman got in the way again!
21 mins: For reasons that are beyond me Ramirez, having been a major influence on the opening sixth of the game from the left wing, has been moved to the right.
20 mins: Rashford is played through again, but this time too wide to take a shot, and his pull-back is cleared before it can reach Lingard. Fellaini, double-marked, heads wide and high from the corner.
16 mins: Fellaini is very much playing in central midfield when Boro have the ball, but is helping out at centre forward when United try to attack.
14 mins: Higginbotham’s got a point here. Fabio and Ramirez have been Boro’s key attacking players so far.
13 mins: Another save – and this time it’s Boro nearly scoring! Gaston Ramirez cuts in from the left and unleashes a drive across goal that was zinging in at the far post until De Gea pushes it away! A pretty humdrum save, to be fair, but it looked good.
10 mins: “Baffled by Mourinho’s team selection,” writes Thom James. “It’s a lower-table team, who don’t score goals, but have a very stingy defence. Exactly the sort of side they’ve struggled to put away all season. So seems to me a moronic call to leave your two most penetrative attackers on the bench, doubly so when there’s a complete lack of mobility in midfield.” Crikey, harsh words. Mourinho’s team selection seems at least partly designed to contribute to his continuing long-term tirade about fixture congestion. The forwards on the bench will play if needed, and will be fine.
7 mins: Chance for Rashford! And a save! Lingard pops the ball forward and the forward outpaces Bernardo as if the Boro player is stuck in treacle, streaks towards goal, but hits the keeper’s legs with his shot! Great pace, terrible miss.
5 mins: They take the corner short, and by the time Leadbitter deigns to attempt a cross, Valencia has closed him down and Boro end up with a throw-in.
4 mins: Middlesbrough are doing some early attacking, crossing from the left and from the right and eventually winning a corner.
2 mins: It seems United may be playing 4-2-3-1, with Bailly at right-back, Young at left-back and Valencia at right midfield.
1 min: And they’re off! Middlesbrough get the game under way.
Everyone’s ready for kick-off. Deep breah.
“José’s speech sounds tremendously positive,” writes Ian Copestake, “especially if you imagine it being spoken by Bengt Ekerota’s Death from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.” Unlike the version of Mourinho we saw in that interview, I think death could probably motivate pretty well.
Now they are shaking hands.
They are no longer in the tunnel.
The teams are in the tunnel.
So, just to be clear, “everybody plays even when they are not on the pitch”. Hmm.
José Mourinho talks to BT Sport. He talks very slowly, never looking up, monotonous, semi-catatonic. I hope he was more engaging when talking to his players, because a pre-match team talk like that would inspire nothing but a decent snooze.
Mkhitaryan and Marcos Rojo they are on the bench, but difficult for them to play. The ones that are injured or suspended, they are not here. This is the group we have, but to be honest with you I’m positive. I trust the guys. I always say that when somebody doesn’t play it’s an opportunity for somebody else to play, and I trust my boys. Fresh, because they didn’t play against Rostov in the last match, in that sense yes. But there is not just physical fatigue, and everybody plays even when they are not on the pitch, and the accumulation of matches never make it easy for anyone. Well, we lose some very important players, but we have some other with the desire to play. And of course we are going to try our best. As I was saying, let’s go for it. Don’t moan about the players who are not playing, and just feel it is a good opportunity for others.
Has to be. Though there are lots of fine players missing from that starting line-up, you’d expect it to be plenty good enough, subject to Middlesbrough not undergoing a Shakespearesque caretaker effect.
BT Sport have just shown an interview with Steve Gibson, in which he says Steve Agnew “most definitely” could stay in the job until the end of the season, and that he hopes “he’ll still be here next season, and the season after, and the season after”. And also that he and Aitor Karanka would “always be friends”.
He also said that he would never talk with players – “that’s the coach’s role” – and also that Agnew “has the support of the players”, though I’m not sure how he’d know that.
If you like dramatic music over footage of people getting off coaches and walking down corridors holding wash bags, this video is absolutely for you.
The teams are in! Four changes for Middlesbrough, with Karanka rowee Stewart Downing coming straight back into the starting XI. Seven changes for United, with De Gea, Jones, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Lingard and Rashford coming in.
Middlesbrough: Valdes, Barragan, Bernardo, Gibson, Da Silva, de Roon, Clayton, Leadbitter, Downing, Negredo, Ramirez. Subs: Guzan, Stuani, Fry, Guedioura, Gestede, Forshaw, Traoré.
Man Utd: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Bailly, Valencia, Fellaini, Carrick, Young, Mata, Lingard, Rashford. Subs: Rojo, Martial, Romero, Mkhitaryan, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Darmian.
Referee: Jon Moss.
So, today is Steve Agnew’s free hit. The game he’s expected to lose. Of course, it may be the only game he gets as Middlesbrough’s caretaker manager, though when he described himself as “a creative coach, slowly but surely I know I’m capable of drip-feeding ideas into the group that will pay dividends” he certainly suggested he was expecting an extended stay. Aitor Karanka’s dismissal was badly timed, given that it prevented him sharing a glass of wine with his old friend José Mourinho, but on the plus side it allowed the coincidentally-named leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland to make a hilarious gag.
Anyway, on with the show. For now, here’s a match preview.