Middlesbrough 3 Sheffield United 1: Vintage Viduka makes an eloquent case for contract renewal

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The Independent Online

Mark Viduka, who is out of contract in the summer, is producing the most eloquent of replies after being told by Middlesbrough to prove he merits a new one.

Viduka, now 31, wants to stay at the club and is responding with some vintage football in an effort to make that happen, scoring the first and claiming major assists on the other two.

His strike partner Yakubu made it four goals in the last four games, and nine Premiership strikes for the season, to destroy United's resistance and lift Middlesbrough above them in the table. But it was Viduka who was the inspiration.

Manager Gareth Southgate said: "He's a class act and was outstanding today. His hold-up play is terrific, he brings people into the game. And he is a leader at the club as well. The two of them were a handful throughout and when your front men are on a roll like this, it is great for the team. We fully deserved it."

Neil Warnock, the United manager, also paid tribute to Boro's front two: "There wasn't much between the teams, just £12m worth of strikers. We couldn't cope with their strength and power."

Boro lost Jonathan Woodgate in the first half but Southgate revealed it to be a minor injury: "Just a bang on the leg, it's a crucial position and we couldn't afford time to let him run it off," he said.

Veteran goalkeeper Paul Gerrard received a call-up, with United's Paddy Kenny and Ian Bennett both ruled out by injury, and he was given no time to settle, with Boro close to scoring twice in the first five minutes.

Top scorer Yakubu, picking up a ball from Lee Cattermole and using his strength to turn Claude Davis, saw his shot deflected just wide by Chris Armstrong. The corner was only half cleared and Julio Arca drove wide from 15 yards.

Boro were ahead in the 36th minute with a typical penalty area twist-and-turn finish from Viduka, who picked a ball up from Arca and fooled Chris Morgan and Rob Kozluk to open up space - his 12-yard finish was deflected off Morgan.

United, though, went level when referee Chris Foy pointed to the spot after a challenge on Rob Hulse by Emanuel Pogatetz right on half-time, with Phil Jagielka driving the penalty home in the 45th minute. It almost unravelled for Boro in added time, with Andrew Taylor just foiling Hulse and, from the corner, Morgan having a header cleared off the line by Arca.

But the pressure was again all on United after the break and there was another superb contribution from Viduka in the 68th minute as he outpaced Davis on the right and fired a drive in from an angle that beat Gerrard. It was going in but Yakubu got the finishing touch inches out. The £7.5m striker struck again in the 75th minute, from the spot, after he was felled as he turned Morgan just inside the area, with Viduka again the supplier.

Goals: Viduka (36) 1-0; Jagielka (45) 1-1; Yakubu (68) 2-1; Yakubu (75) 3-1.

Middlesbrough 4-4-2: Schwarzer; Xavier, Woodgate (Parnaby 32), Pogatetz, Taylor; Cattermole, Arca (Morrison, 86), Boateng, Downing; Yakubu, Viduka. Substitutes not used: Jones, Christie, Euell.

Sheffield Utd 4-4-2: Gerrard; Kozluk, Davis, Morgan, Armstrong; Gillespie (Kazim-Richards, 78), Jagielka, Tongue, S Quinn (A Quinn, 78); Hulse, Webber (Nade, 59). Substitutes not used: Montgomery, Geary.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Middlesbrough Cattermole, Xavier. Sheffield United: Hulse.

Man of the match: Viduka.

Attendance: 30,460.

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