Date: 2nd December 2006 at 7:32pm
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United had the best possible warm-up for Wednesday’s crucial Champions League game: a victory at the Riverside to take us 6 points clear at the top of the table.

A string of missed chances ensured we would witness a pretty nervy finish but United’s defence held firm in the final minutes to record an important victory.

Boro had the better of the first 5 minutes but United soon took control and caused serious trouble to Middlesbrough’s defence Saha’s header was cleared off the line then Ronaldo’s shot was parried by Schwarzer – the rebound was headed wide by Giggs from 10 yards. A fantastic attack saw Louis Saha slipping the ball to Ronaldo who took it past Schwarzer then stumbled under the challenge of the goalkeeper. Replays indicated there was no contact but Chris Foy pointed at the spot and Saha, undaunted by his aberration at Celtic, confidently converted it.

The goal and Xavier’s subsequent header that hit the post following a corner seemed to drain out of Middlesbrough the remnants of their confidence and the visitors created some good chances. Rooney should have added to United’s lead but slipped his shot wide after some fine work on the left by Ronaldo and Saha.

The second half was a much more even affair in terms of possession but Edwin was rarely troubled and United always looked dangerous on the break. The biggest chance came in the way of Giggs who could not take the ball past Schwarzer following Rooney’s fine pass.

We were soon punished for it as Downing’s cross was headed away by Heinze but into the path of the lurking Morrison and Boro’s Reds fan steered his shot into the far corner of the net.

It seemed we would let the victory slip out of our hands but this team is stronger in character than a year ago. Ronaldo was denied by Schwarzer after Giggs’ low cross but the winger retrieved the ball, gave it back to Giggs whose perfect cross found Darren Fletcher and the Scottish midfielder’s perfect header found the net.

United looked the better team afterwards but clear-cut opportunities were few and far between as the game approached its climax. At the end, we had to withstand some nervy minutes as Boro piled up the pressure but all in all, it was a well-deserved victory.

Player Ratings

Van der Sar 6
Solid, not at fault at the equalizer.

Neville 6
He was strangely ineffective in attack but handled the threat of Downing quite well.

Ferdinand 7
Impressive as ever, he was a commanding presence in defence.

Vidic 7
Got himself booked but otherwise he was working very well with Rio.

Heinze 5
He must take the blame for the equaliser and he wasn’t his usual, confident self.

Ronaldo 8
Earned us a dubious penalty, had a great free-kick and he was posing a threat throughout the game.

Scholes 7
Influential as always, confident passing and reasonable defensive work despite getting booked early for a clumsy challenge.

Fletcher 7
Tireless, full-of-energy performance. Scored the winning goal with a perfectly timed header.

Giggs 7
He was a bit quiet in the first 60 minutes but claimed the assist for the second goal and setting up some good chances to increase the lead.

Rooney 7
He was very influential, his physical presence and his technique caused huge problems for Boro.

Saha 7
Confident penalty and a very good showing.

O’Shea 6
Solid contribution.

Brown 5
No impact whatsoever.