Jesse Lingard scored a stunning goal as Manchester United dug in to pick up a 3-1 victory at Middlesbrough on Sunday to move up to fifth in the Premier League table.
United dominated the opening exchanges and deservedly took the lead through Marouane Fellaini in the 30th minute – the Belgium international’s first league goal since December 2015.
The hosts pressed for an equaliser, but a sensational Lingard strike from 25 yards in the 62nd minute doubled United’s lead.
Substitute Rudy Gestede did give the hosts hope with a goal in the 78th minute – Middlesbrough’s first from open play in over nine hours and 50 minutes of Premier League football – but despite late pressure, a fortuitous Antonio Valencia tap-in after a slip by Victor Valdes made sure the visitors took all three points.
Tempers frayed towards the end of a match, with Gestede and Eric Bailly squaring up to each other in an unseemly end to the game, with the tension also appearing to bubble over into the tunnel.
The result sees United finally climb above sixth in the table, leapfrogging Arsenal into fifth, while Middlesbrough’s position is looking more perilous by the week, as they are now five points from safety in 19th.
Jose Mourinho shuffled his pack after the midweek Europa League win over Rostov, with Marcus Rashford leading the line in the absence of the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It wasn’t long before the United striker had sprang the offside trap, racing past static Boro defender Bernardo before being denied by a smart save from Valdes down low to his left.
The hosts also started well, and David de Gea was forced into a strong save from a rasping Gaston Ramirez effort from the edge of the box after 13 minutes.
Valdes seemed to have a point to prove to his former employer. His double save to first deny Rashford from close range after a low Juan Mata cross, and then Valencia on the rebound with his feet was right out of the top drawer.
The pressure told in the 30th minute as United took the lead. No team in the bottom half of the Premier League had a better home defensive record than Boro prior to this encounter, but their backline allowed Ashley Young far too much time and space to pick out an unmarked Fellaini who headed home past a helpless Valdes.
Middlesbrough responded well, and piled the pressure on for the remainder of the half, but United held firm until the break.
The Teesside wind was causing havoc in the second half, as several Middlesbrough crosses failed to make it into the box after being caught in gusts, but there was nothing the elements could do to stop Lingard brilliantly doubling United’s lead. As the Boro defence backed off, Lingard carried the ball forward at pace before letting fly with a 25-yard strike which flew past Valdes into the top corner.
The hosts pulled one back with 12 minutes to go as Gestede capitalised on a missed clearance from Chris Smalling to fire home from close range.
The action boiled over in stoppage time as Gestede and Bailly clashed and there was time for further drama. Valdes slipped when trying to clear the ball and Valencia stole in, walking the ball home to ensure Middlesbrough’s wait for a victory in 2017 goes on.