By Rob Nichols
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Boro fell to yet another defeat today but what a fight we made of it. The 3-1 scoreline greatly flattered Man United. Up to that unfortunate slip by Victor Valdez we might so easily have taken a draw. Jose Mourinho was a relieved man as he jumped for joy with Valencia’s injury time tap in clincher. We are now 5 points from safety with only ten games to go but there is at least a glimmer of hope to cling to now.
I am in no way intending to have a go at Aitor Karanka. The man from the Basque Country has achieved so much for our club. Yet in the days since the turn of the year we have slipped and slipped ever further from the standards he set and we would expect. Just compare the way we went about the game today under Agnew to how we surrendered out of the FA Cup to Man City. In a one off knock out game we should have been throwing caution to the wind towards the end but instead we kept the brakes firmly on. Caution was the watchword.
Gaston Ramirez looked like the Gaston of old in the first half today as he rampaged against the United defence. His flashing shot was well saved by De Gea and a real rarity for Boro of late, a shot on target that forced the keeper to react.
We were undone by a cross to the back stick where Fellaini out jumped Fabio. But Victor Valdez had already performed absolute heroics to keep us in the game.
In the second half we came out fighting again only for Lingard to step on the gas and zip a screaming shot into the top corner.
But Agnew and Boro reacted sending on Gestede and Traore and setting up as 4:4:2. Downing was helping to run the show spraying the passes and crosses. Traore was sprinting past the lunges of Fellaini and cutting a swathe down our right.
When they slipped up Gestede pounced. The crowd roared. We were going to take it to a tight finish. And with Clayton controlling the middle we punched and punched but United survived on the ropes. With seconds remaining they broke our hearts as Valdez slipped to let Valencia deliver the knock out sucker punch.
There was applause afterwards for the players’ efforts. It has been such a difficult week for everyone but we stand together. The players have regained a lot of belief and confidence. Agnew knows them well, he knows their strengths and is the kind of coach that will build on those rather than dwell on the weaknesses. In two weeks time we could be ready to come out fighting for our survival in the make or break games at the beginning of April. There is hope…
Middlesbrough 1-3 Man United