Manchester Utd 4 Middlesbrough 1: Tevez leads United buccaneers to top spot as Boro flounder

Rooney double act with Argentinian makes Ferguson's men look irresistible
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The Independent Football

It started with a magical individual execution, and flamboyant celebration from the Portuguese Nani and was ultimately won by a brace from the Argentinian Carlos Tevez as Manchester United secured their eighth successive victory, the League leadership, and equalled a 100-year-old club record with four goals in four successive games. Yet, it would not have been lost on the Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate that this defeat could be attributed in large part to an Englishmen.

Wayne Rooney did not merely continue his splendid scoring sequence – it is now eight goals in seven games for club and country – and combine so intuitively with Tevez, a combination which many insisted initially could not produce dividends, but was the heartbeat of a team, which are currently in such irresistible mood. "Wayne and Carlos are doing fantastically well together," said Ferguson. "They will mature and develop as experienced players. When they do that, hopefully we will see the complete partnership." Mind you, Rooney's goal just after the half hour which could well be said to have been the defining moment of this contest, was also the result of a less welcome English contribution – a dreadful defensive clanger from another International.

Southgate's team were withstanding all that United hurled at them, and had largely silenced the crowd, until, with the score at 1-1 Stewart Downing's error offered Rooney the kind of opportunity he does not squander. After that, there was no way back for the men from Teesside. "Some of our attacking play at times was very good," said Ferguson, who was able to name Owen Hargreaves to start his first Premier League game since early September, and watched him exude authority in midfield. "But we took our foot off the pedal and paid the penalty. But there was no doubt about us in the second half."

Boro, despite having lost only one of their last six visits here, will have rarely arrived to find United in more exhilarating mood. In those circumstances, what they did not need was a spectacular piece of improvisation from Nani after only three minutes when he dispatched the ball over Mark Schwarzer from 30 yards.

Boro responded almost immediately. Not for the first occasion, Tuncay delivered a fine cross and Jérémie Aliadière headed his first Boro goal past Edwin Van de Sar. The visitors could have established a lead when another precise cross from Tuncay saw Downing emerging on the blindside of Wes Brown only to direct his header narrowly wide of the far post.

Then Downing unwittingly intervened on United's behalf. Back in his own area, attempting to clear, he inexplicably played the ball to Rooney, who strode forward and planted the ball past Schwarzer. According to Ferguson, Boro are "a work in progress". Southgate would have reflected that the task is not being made any easier by that kind of aberration after all his team's fine work.

After the restart the partnership between Tevez and Rooney always looked likely to produce dividends. Ten minutes after the break, the pair again combined. It was a beautiful move began by Anderson's ball to Tevez, and continued with Rooney's impudent backheel for the Argentinian who beat Schwarzer with aplomb. It emphasised Rooney's great awareness of how the game is unfolding around him. "It needed quick thinking, great vision and courage," said Ferguson. "Wayne was in the box and he could have taken a touch. But he knows Carlos is making the run and the back-heel puts him in."

In between, Boro might have equalised. Southgate watched in frustration as Lee Cattermole's drive turned away by Van der Sar. In the closing minutes, Downing nearly made amends with a curling free-kick which swung just wide before Rooney dashed the length of the field and released Tevez who scored United's fourth off a deflection from Taylor. Where United are concerned, class is, indeed, permament. Currently, their form is holding up pretty well too.

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