Berbatov strikes winner for United

Manchester, December 30:

Manchester United kept up the pressure on Liverpool and Chelsea as Dimitar Berbatov’s third league goal for the club saw off a spirited Middlesbrough 1-0 in the Premier League on Monday.

Berbatov still to hit it off at United since arriving from Spurs in September, settled the tense clash with a 69th minute volley.

And it ensured that Premier League champions United remained well in contention for the title going into the New Year.

United’s 1-0 victory at Stoke on Friday, courtesy of a late goal from Carlos Tevez, kept the champions within touching distance of leaders Liverpool at the top.

With Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Cristiano Ronaldo available up-front, United certainly possessed ample firepower with which to overcome Middlesbrough.

Ronaldo fluffed a series of clear-cut scoring chances. As early as the seventh minute, Ronaldo was found unmarked on the penalty spot by Park Ji-Sung, but instead of slotting past goalkeeper Ross Turnbull, the United star aimed a limp left-foot effort wide of the post. He then went close with two free-kicks in quick succession before shooting wide at the far post once more on 22 minutes after Darren Fletcher had dummied Rooney’s cross for Ronaldo. United could at least console themselves by their heavy dominance of possession, but Middlesbrough had the ability to hurt them on the break and Brazilian striker Afonso Alves almost embarrassed them when he shot narrowly over the crossbar.

The game exploded in first-half stoppage time, however, when referee Martin Atkinson enraged Ronaldo by failing to award a penalty after the United man had been dragged to the ground by Emmanuel Pogatetz. Ronaldo continued to complain to Atkinson after the half-time whistle, before racing half the length of the pitch to confront Pogatetz near the tunnel. The pair clashed heads and continued their row outside the dressing-rooms.

The simmering tensions subsided in the second-half, but United’s performance did not improve and Middlesbrough were hugely unlucky not to take the lead through Tuncay Sanli on 62 minutes. Matthew Bates’s cross from the right-flank was met by the Turkey international with a diving header, but Tuncay could only watch as the ball flashed inches wide of Edwin van der Sar’s left-hand post.

It was a real let-off for United and they made it count seven minutes later when Berbatov broke the deadlock. Park’s tenacity led to Michael Carrick crossing into the penalty area and, when David Wheater failed to clear, Berbatov volleyed past Turnbull to open the scoring and take United three points closer to Liverpool at the top of table.