Football: Boro expose United plan to dominate

Manchester United 2 Middlesbrough 3

THE TITANIC was a real life disaster of recent memory, rather than a film, the last time Middlesbrough succeeded at Old Trafford. Their 3-0 victory in January 1930 came in a month of cataclysmic proportions for Manchester United, who also lost at home to Swindon Town of the Third Division South in the FA Cup.

No one expects a spell of similar upsets, or do we? On a day of reunions, one was notable for its absence: Manchester United's increasingly distant touch with defensive solidarity. Much more of this and ambitions, at home and abroad, will come to nothing.

Twenty-one goals have been conceded in their last 10 matches and, but for their qualification for the knockout phase of the European Cup, the last four weeks would have been notable only for unremitting mediocrity. The entertainment is glorious, it is just the results that are problem. They have won only once now since November 14.

Forget the rousing finale and treat the scoreline as an imposter because, for an hour, supposedly the best team in England were overwhelmingly outplayed. Middlesbrough were splendid, United simply dreadful.

Nowhere was the contrast more exposed than in the home penalty area, where Hamilton Ricard and Brian Deane reduced Gary Neville and Ronny Johnsen to rubble. "Individual errors," was Jim Ryan's succinct assessment, before adding enigmatically: "It is a worry. We will have to address it again."

The fact that Ryan, the reserve team coach, was addressing the media was one symptom of the mitigating circumstances that could be paraded in defence of the defence. Jaap Stam was missing with an ankle injury but, more importantly, Alex Ferguson was absent because of a family bereavement.

You can only imagine the volcanic activity on the touchline if the United manager had been present as Middlesbrough went 3-0 up with goals from Ricard, Dean Gordon and Deane. But it was his selection that performed so badly, so perhaps little would have changed. Just the language in the dressing-room.

It was not hard to find paradoxes. Former United players Bryan Robson and Viv Anderson were directing operations from the visiting bench while Gary Pallister, who was a huge, mobile obstacle at Old Trafford for nine seasons, was magnificent in the Middlesbrough defence.

"I think he should still be playing for England," Robson said of Pallister and, while some might raise eyebrows at that, the giant centre-back could certainly be enrolled into the nation's diplomatic service, given his comments about United's wretched defending.

"They've had a few injuries," he said, "they've never really had a settled back four, and that always causes problems. Steve [Bruce] and myself found out we were all over the place when we weren't playing regularly. If you can't get a settled partnership, it's difficult. Obviously they want to get their two best players at the back and have a partnership which will last as long as possible."

On the assumption there was no defence, Ryan abandoned it altogether in a death-or-glory charge at the finish and it almost yielded a point. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came on for Phil Neville and, more contentiously, Paul Scholes replaced David Beckham.

The England midfielder had redeemed an undistinguished performance that culminated in a booking after an ugly lunge at Ricard with a cross that led to Nicky Butt's goal.

And he followed that up with a similar arc of precision that Ryan Giggs ought to have headed in. But Ryan was fearful that the short fuse was burning, and, when he looked for a way to introduce Scholes, Beckham was an obvious choice.

The change almost had the required effect, too, because Scholes made the score 3-2 after 70 minutes and was to the fore in the mayhem that caused Mark Schwarzer to clear straight to Andy Cole with four minutes remaining.

The United striker's shot was partially blocked by the Boro goalkeeper, but was still heading for goal when Steve Vickers cleared it over his own bar.

Boro survived and their supporters could conclude the match by singing "We're going to win the League". They will not, their squad is too shallow, but on this evidence neither will United, whose last clean sheet was on November 8.

Urgent action is required.

Goals: Ricard (23) 0-1; Gordon (31) 0-2; Deane (59) 0-3; Butt (62) 1- 3; Scholes (70) 2-3.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; P Neville (Solskjaer, 78), Johnsen, G Neville, Irwin; Beckham (Scholes, 63), Keane, Butt, Giggs; Sheringham, Cole. Substitutes not used: Blomqvist, Brown, Van der Gouw (gk).

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Cooper, Vickers, Pallister; Festa, Mustoe (Moore, 71), Maddison (Beck, 82), Townsend, Gordon; Deane, Ricard. Substitutes not used: Blackmore, Stockdale, Roberts (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Manchester Utd: Beckham; Middlesbrough: Festa.

Man of the match: Ricard.

Attendance: 55,152.

News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Life and Style
fashionLidl to launch a new affordable fashion range
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment