Manchester United 3 Middlesbrough 1: Possebon injury mars United win

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It was the kind of challenge which makes the outcome of a Carling Cup third round tie even more of an irrelevance to Old Trafford. Emanuel Pogatetz's high 65th minute challenge on Manchester United's young Brazilian debutant Rodrigo Possebon, which saw the Middlesbrough captain dismissed and Possebon stretchered off with an oxygen mask to his face and a possible broken leg, silenced the stadium. Sir Alex Ferguson later reflected darkly that the prognosis was "not good." The incident also led Ferguson to some finger jabbing on the touchline with Middlesbrough's assistant manager Colin Cooper and he later expressed incredulity at both Pogatetz and Cooper's protests. "The thing about these challenges is it always seems to be a case of the opponent claiming his innocence," Ferguson said. "Pogatetz should have walked right off – that's what I couldn't understand – and one of their bench is out screaming... that there was nothing wrong with the boy."

It took Gareth Southgate, whose claims about Cristiano Ronaldo's theatrics have not always endeared him to Ferguson, to intervene on the touchline and apologise. "A couple of lads on our bench didn't see it the way I did," said Southgate. Ferguson appreciated Southgate's approach.

The Boro manager said his feelings about the player's conduct would remain "within the club" but the Austrian is known to his teammates as 'Mad Dog' for a reason. His ghastly challenge on Russian club player Yaroslav Kharitonskiy three years ago broke the player's leg in two places and saw him receive a 24-week ban. "The last two years he has worked incredibly hard on his disciplinary record and that's an unusual aberration for him," Southgate. "He has taken captaincy really well and if you speak to some of the referees who've had him you'll see there are no problems."

But that will be of no consolation to United, who were waiting for hospital reports last night on the midfielder, signed only nine months ago from Brazil's Sporting Club Internacional and who demonstrated against the Kaiser Chiefs in South Africa in July that he has a strong future. The challenge, which saw Pogatetz make contact with the ball but scythe into the United midfielder's shin, studs up, as he followed through, altered the course of a game into which Boro had started working their way back.

Though Ferguson employed his usual tactic of deploying youngsters – there was an lively full debut here for busy striker Danny Welbeck – the night had belonged to the established quartet of Cristiano Ronaldo (making his first start in a United jersey since last May in Moscow) Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Nani.

Ferguson was surprisingly candid about Ronaldo, admitting that the lure of Real Madrid draws in most southern Europeans in the end and Cristiano Ronaldo will be among them. "I understand what was going on in Cristiano's mind when he declared that he wanted to join Real," he said. Ferguson also provided a first glimpse into the tactics he employed when he met Ronaldo in Lisbon. "I pointed out to him how much better it would be to leave like Eric Cantona, with the fans loving and appreciating him," he said.

Ferguson's calm rationalising gave a sense of normal service resuming after a fractious summer and when Ronaldo rose above Didier Digard to deposit Ryan Giggs' cross into the bottom right hand corner on 25 minutes, it had. The old hands almost helped Welbeck to make a name for himself when one of many testing centres from the left by Anderson fell at his feet he fired at keeper Brad Jones.

United's picture was scrambled after the break when Middlesbrough substitute Adam Johnson scored a fierce 25-yard equaliser after latching onto Nemanja Vidic's headed clearance. But Pogatetz's departure saw United's superiority restored. There was poetic justice in the appalling error by substitute Chris Rigott who, while dealing with Da Silva's lofted 40-yard pass, deposited the ball into the path of Giggs, who chipped home exquisitely.

Tevez had placed a ball across the area to Giggs, whose chip was headed off the line by David Wheater and Justin Hoyte's head was needed to clear Tevez's own shot off the line before a similar defensive calamity, from Wheater, saw Manucho's ball nudged into Nani's path to finish things off five minutes into injury time.

Goals: Ronaldo (24) 1-0; Johnson (55) 1-1; Giggs (79) 2-1; Nani

(90) 3-1.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1) Amos; Rafael Da Silva, Brown, Vidic, O'Shea; Anderson, Possebon (Gibson 72); Ronaldo (Tevez, 61), Giggs (Manucho, 84), Nani; Welbeck. Substitutes: Zieler, Cleverley, Gray, Eckersley

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Jones; Hoyte, Wheater, Pogatetz, Taylor; Digard (Riggott, 72), O'Neil, Shawky (Adam Johnson, h-t), Downing; Aliadiere, Alves (Emnes, 85). Substitutes: Turnbull, Arca, Walker, Craddock

Referee: A Marriner (Birmingham)