Manchester United 1 v 1 Middlesbrough
Old Trafford, Manchester
3rd October 2004
Manchester United had a disappointing result against a dismal defensive Boro side. With their game plan of 'all-out defend' Boro managed to sneak a point from Old Trafford, pushing United 9 points behind rivals Arsenal, who cruised to victory on Saturday against a Charlton side that seemed to lie down and die.
John O'Shea was the unlikely choice in centre-midfield, with Phil Neville over-looked yet again this season, in for the injured Paul Scholes. Carroll kept his place in nets, with the usual back-four, and with Rooney keeping his place from Tuesday's game alongside Ruud.
United started off the most likely team, with Ronaldo and Rooney linking up well to set O'Shea up for a blistering strike, hit straight at the keeper. Indeed, Ronaldo and Rooney seemed to be the only ones playing with any real passion as they demanded the ball time after time. Ronaldo also went close before Boro had their first shot on goal - some 25 minutes into the game.
It was, typically, Boro who scored first. Downing played the ball across to Morrison who was left unmarked at the back-post and was able to slot home on 33 minutes.
United rallied, but despite constant pressure didn't seem to be able to get the goals. Ronaldo was dancing down the wing at every occasion and manged to get some quality crosses into the box, but they were all to easily cleared by one of Boro's ten men behind the ball.
Van Nistelrooy hit the crossbar with a header from a Ronaldo cross, and Gary was inches off grabbing the equaliser minutes later as the ball sped across the face of the goal. It looked like it was going to be another of those days that United fans are becoming accustomed to - the opposition get a skanky goal and then sit back and manage to hold us off.
The last roll of Fergie's dice came with fifteen minutes left, Smith entered the fray for O'Shea, and played on the left-hand side of midfield. With nine minutes to go, and after a period of sustained pressure by United, Smith turned saviour again.
A Ronaldo cross beat the defenders this time, and Smith rose at the back post to head home with ferocious pace. United barely celebrated as they ran back to the centre-circle to try and get the winner - There was still time!
Gary could have been the hero, but he haplessly misfired over the bar, and it was not to be. Time-wasting by the unsportsmanlike Boro players cost them a few yellow cards but possibly saved them a point. It was sad to see.
United don't play for another two weeks, and they had better have their game-plan sorted as they face another team that will set-out to all-out defend, Birmingham.
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, McMahon, Riggott, Southgate, Parnaby, Morrison, Mendieta, Boateng, Downing, Zenden, Nemeth
Man Utd: Carroll, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze, Ronaldo, O'Shea (Smith 73), Keane, Giggs, Rooney, van Nistelrooy.
Subs Not Used: Ricardo, Kleberson, Djemba-Djemba, Fortune.
Goals: Smith 81.
Ref: R Styles (Hampshire).