Manchester United. . .1
ONE lesson Lennie Lawrence has taught his newly-promoted team, how to live with the rich and famous, he learned himself at the Charlton school of hard knocks.
As Ryan Giggs ran wild and free on the soggy surface, life was never easy for Middlesbrough, but with typical resilience they chased and harried tirelessly, and battled back for a deserved point with a determined second-half performance. It was United's sixth consecutive draw, and while they did create openings they lacked the player to apply a cool finish.
Yet the portents were hardly encouraging for Boro when their captain, Alan Kernaghan, ricked his neck in the pre-match warm-up, giving Jon Gittens an unexpected Premier League debut. Indeed when their fans saw Giggs almost driving home early on, they must have felt like doing the same, so threatening were United's attacks.
As Giggs and Mark Hughes switched places and dragged their escorts around with them, so worrying gaps appeared in the home defence. But Boro plugged most of them, and midway through the half recovered to play some controlled football. Paul Wilkinson was their most likely supplier of a goal and soon after he had been laid out by Steve Bruce's challenge he got up to head Bernie Slaven's cross goalwards though, alas, straight at Peter Schmeichel.
But United always had the edge in the first half and duly took the lead a minute before the interval - ironically from the penalty spot. Denis Irwin, on an audacious run into the box, was tripped by Gittens and Bruce made a much better job of this conversion than he did last Tuesday in Moscow, stroking the ball well wide of Ian Ironside's right hand.
Then, crucially as it turned out, both Hughes and Brian McClair squandered chances either side of half-time with woefully inaccurate shots which might have killed off Boro there and then.
But the home side had come out fighting for the second half. Slaven was unlucky to hit the post after turning Gary Pallister, but the gods smiled on the Irishman in the 59th minute. Tommy Wright's innocuous header skidded through Mike Phelan's legs and Slaven, running in behind him, rammed an unstoppable cross- shot past Schmeichel.
With 20 minutes left United tried a different approach, bringing on Bryan Robson for his Premier League debut in place of Hughes, which was not surprising as the Welshman had not looked happy since the opening. The new front pairing of Giggs and McClair put together a couple of neat moves, but in truth looked no more likely to score than the original version, apart from McClair's late header which was safely gathered in by Ironside.
Middlesbrough: I Ironside; C Morris, J Phillips, J Gittens, D Whyte, A Peake, B Slaven, R Mustoe, P Wilkinson, T Wright, J Pollock (J Hendrie, 53 min). Subs not used: M Proctor, S Pears (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.
Manchester Utd: P Schmeichel; D Irwin, M Phelan (A Kanchelskis, 81 min), S Bruce, D Ferguson, G Pallister, C Blackmore, P Ince, B McClair, M Hughes (B Robson, 70 min), R Giggs. Substitutes: G Walsh (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham)
Goals: Bruce pen (0-1, 44 min); Slaven (1-1, 59 min).