Date: 6th April 2008 at 6:09pm
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It is now annoying the bit. City scored from their first chance at the council house and at Old Trafford yet they wasted countless openings to peg back Chelsea who, of course, took the lead via an own goal.

Now it was Alves’ turn to show us that whatever he can’t do against Chelsea, he can against us. He missed an open goal with Cudicini in no man’s land last Sunday then headed a ball to the bar from 3 yards out but never mind, he coolly slotted home his first ever Premier League goals this time – of course against United.

Having said that, Fergie made a gamble with team selection and it did not pay off. Scholes, Carrick and Giggs were all on the pitch from the kickoff and this combination, though gives us silky passing and incisiveness, lack steel and most importantly, pace.

Up against roughhouses like George Boateng (did he have a fair tackle during the game? not much, that’s certain) it was always going to be difficult. And though Boro played dire, hoof-it-up football, it was exactly the sort of thing they had to do, given that United can’t deal with long-ball merchants without the Vidic-Rio pairing.

No surprise that Brown and O’Shea were relatively comfortable when Roma kept it on the ground but lost the plot big time when they hit it high into the box. It was something similar this time but of course they alone can’t be blamed for the dropped points.

We started brilliantly as Giggs’ corner found Carrick on the left side of the box. The midfielder brought the ball down, beat Young and passed to Ronaldo who turned it in from close range. Too easy and United were 1-0 up.

But the warning signs were there. We had troubles clearing any long ball that was hoofed up to the box. Then Young was allowed to hack down Evra from behind – and Boro almost scored from the counter-attack, despite that it was a foul worthy of a yellow card and that the Frenchman was still on the ground.

Then Rooney could have made it 2-0 having been played through brilliantly by Carrick – but the linesman, for reasons best known to himself, flagged him offside despite being clearly onside and with only Schwarzer to beat.

Then Ronaldo created a chance on his own, beating four people Giggs-1999-style before lashing it wide from the edge of the six-yard-box. He really should have fired home…

The real sickener came afterwards. Carrick’s aimless long ball (he got confused as to which team he’s playing in, or something like that) was hoofed back straightly, O’Shea were caught out of position and Alves pounced on the bouncing ball and coolly placed a shot into the far corner.

United should have regained the lead with a minute to go when Rooney’s shot from outside the box was blocked by Taylor’s hand – somehow, astonishingly, Mike Riley did not think it was worthy of a penalty.

The second half started off at great pace but United were having trouble with creating chances. Our cause was not helped by the fact that Middlesbrough players were allowed to handle the ball outside the box, too and that fouling Evra and Rooney became not just legitimate but, or so it seemed, a recreational habit.

But of course all this shouldn’t have meant that Boro take the lead but they did, thanks to our comical ineptitude to deal with their long balls. It was Brown who headed one into Alves’ path and the Brazilian, who could not find the open goal at Stamford Bridge and indeed anywhere else this season, produced another classy finish.

Fergie, having sensed that we are a bit unbalanced – we had no attacks going on the right side as Tevez was nowhere to be seen and O’Shea had enough defensive problems without thinking about attacking as well. Therefore he brought the Argentinian off and replaced him with Park whereas minutes later Hargreaves came on for O’Shea.

This gave us balance in attack but our hopes were seriously dented with Rio’s injury: Pique had to replace him and it meant that Giggs must stay on the field for the entire game. And it backfired on us.

United upped the tempo and dominated the last 30 minutes but clear-cut chances were few and far between as Boro packed the box with men. Yet Park could beat one on the left of the box, slipped the ball in and Rooney, with the aid of a deflection, found the equaliser.

It became frantic afterwards, United pouring forward for the winner, Boro looking to do damage on the break. They had good chances missed by Aliadiere and Tuncay, the latter rigth at the final whistle. United could have scored from a Rooney header which was palmed away by Schwarzer, retrieved by Giggs on the by-line but his cutback went behind Scholes.

Ronaldo was clipped on the edge of the box on the left for a threatening free-kick but Giggs’ delivery was poor and it was headed away. Scholes had a good chance to shoot but his effort was deflected wide and Rooney fired wide after Hargreaves found him with an over-the-top ball.

In the end, it was a fair result but for an astonishingly poor performance by Mike Riley, we could have won. The penalty shout and the final rally should not hide the facts though: 1) we were second best at times, 2) our back four is worryingly vulnerable without Vidic and now Rio is out as well 3) Ryan Giggs is past it.

The latter is the saddest conclusion of all. Anyway, we are still three points clear of an incredibly lucky but mediocre-looking Chelsea side and have to beat a deflated Arsenal on Sunday. It’s still very much in our hands, chaps.