Alex Mowatt strike secures 1-0 win at Middlesbrough...
MIDDLESBROUGH 0, UNITED 1 (Mowatt 3).
Boro: Mejias, Nsue (Bamford 66), Kalas, Gibson, Friend, Leadbitter (Forshaw 80), Clayton, Adomah, Reach (Tomlin 57), Vossen, Kike. Subs. Ripley, Whitehead, Omeruo, Husband.
United: Silvestri, Wootton, Bamba, Bellusci (Cooper 90), C Taylor, Byram, Austin, Murphy, Cook, Mowatt, Morison. Subs. S Taylor, Berardi, Sloth, Sharp, Cani, Antenucci.
Referee: A Marriner
Booked: Forshaw (Boro), Bellusci, Bamba, Cooper (United)
Att: 25,531 (2,960 United)
The televised lunchtime trip to Middlesbrough saw Neil Redfearn name an unchanged starting line-up from the side that beat Millwall a week earlier, while defender Liam Cooper returned from injury to occupy a place on the bench.
A near-capacity home crowd combined with the vociferous travelling army made it a red-hot atmosphere inside the Riverside Stadium during the early stages, and United made a dream start as Alex Mowatt fired them ahead after just three minutes.
Lewis Cook seized upon a loose ball in the middle of the park and drove forward before teeing up the arriving Mowatt to drill a low strike into Tomas Mejias’ bottom right corner, with the Boro goalkeeper left rooted to the spot as the away section erupted.
The hosts looked to mount a quick response and Marco Silvestri was soon called into action at the opposite end to beat away Kike’s powerful effort with a strong, two handed save after the striker had turned his way into the area.
Silvestri’s reflexes were then tested again to push away Jelle Vossen’s ferocious volley from the edge of the box, before Vossen managed to squeeze the ball underneath the Italian shot-stopper but Giuseppe Bellusci recovered in time to hack clear off the line.
The United back four were being forced to defend deep as Boro piled forward in search of an equaliser. Kike was blocked in front of goal by a combination of Sol Bamba and Bellusci, before Vossen was again denied by the alertness of Silvestri, this time from close-range, as the Italian smothered his effort.
And things showed no signs of letting up as Grant Leadbitter dragged wide from range and Silvestri acrobatically tipped Kike’s deflected effort over the bar. United twice broke up-field, with both Sam Byram and Scott Wootton finding themselves in promising attacking positions, but Boro managed to clear their lines on each occasion.
Silvestri then pushed away Adam Clayton’s dipping strike in a hectic opening 45 minutes for the goalkeeper, while Bamba glanced a header wider from Luke Murphy’s corner on the stroke of half-time as United took a 1-0 lead into the break.
Both sides returned unchanged from the interval and the game resumed at a frantic pace, with Silvestri clawing away Kike’s curling effort before Wootton rose to meet Murphy’s cross with a towering header to rattle the crossbar at the opposite end.
Further heroics from Silvestri kept out Kike and then Albert Adomah, but United issued a timely reminder of their threat going forward as Mejias rushed off his line to just steal the ball away from Steve Morison’s toes after Murphy’s ball over the top looked to send the striker through on goal.
Silvestri again thwarted Vossen and George Friend blazed high and wide, while the tireless Rodolph Austin lashed a speculative effort wide as United continued to have fleeting sights of goals among Boro’s waves of pressure.
And while Silvestri would deservedly go on to earn plenty of plaudits regardless of the game’s outcome, the United defence were equally as praiseworthy as they continued to withstand countless attacks from the hosts.
Bamba’s last-ditch block on Kike typified United’s resilience, while Bellusci and Charlie Taylor were also on hand to make crucial interventions. Redfearn’s men remained a threat on the counter-attack, though, and Mowatt’s cross almost found Wootton at the back post before Austin could only find the arms of Mejias from inside the area.
Having used all three of their substitutions, Boro were forced to play the final few minutes with 10 men after Vossen left the field on a stretcher after a collision inside the centre circle. The lengthy break as Vossen received treatment meant nine minutes of stoppage time were added on and United were dealt an injury blow themselves as Bellusci limped off to be replaced by Cooper.
Austin stung the fingertips of Mejias with a ferocious drive from range, while Kike saw a header deflected over in the closing stages as United held on to make it three consecutive away wins and secure a seasonal double over Boro.