Manchester United ended 2016 in dramatic fashion after two goals in a minute helped the Reds come from a goal behind to snatch a late 2-1 win over a stubborn Middlesbrough side at Old Trafford.
The Reds were halted by the woodwork twice in the first half as well as the referee after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a goal ruled out for a high foot – a decision which looked harsh, before Grant Leadbitter put the visitors into a shock second-half lead. It looked like it was going to be a frustrating day for the Reds only for two late goals inside a minute from Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba to send United into 2017 with their fifth successive Premier League victory.
With Monday’s trip to West Ham United in mind, Jose Mourinho shuffled his pack by making five changes to the side that comfortably beat Sunderland on Boxing Day. Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Maroune Fellaini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial all came in for Phil Jones, Marcus Rojo, Michael Carrick, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata.
The Reds naturally started on the front foot winning a succession of corners, but United were nearly the architects of their own downfall early on as Ander Herrera lost the ball to Adama Traore who along with two other Boro men sprung a counterattack which should have lead to the opener.
The visitors had a three-on-two situation, but instead of playing in either Stewart Downing or Alvaro Negredo, Traore, in front of the Stretford End, selfishly went for goal from 20 yards and failed to trouble David De Gea.
Aitor Karanka’s men knew they may not have a better chance to score all game and they were nearly made to rue their missed opportunity as Mkhitaryan’s header across goal was met by Pogba, but his acrobatic bicycle kick rebounded off the post.
The Teessiders had other ideas and responded instantly with their second big chance of the game. Another counterattack headed by dangerman Traore, who escaped the clutches of Daley Blind, meant the Spaniard had space to pull the ball back to George Friend, but his shot from 15 yards out was blocked by Fellaini.
Then the main talking point of the first half. An on-song Martial tried his luck from 30 yards, but his rocket cannoned off the post. The Frenchman picked up the loose ball and crossed for Ibrahimovic who beat Victor Valdes to the ball and poked home, only for referee Lee Mason to rule the Swede had lead with a high foot meaning United’s no.9 was stuck on 50 calendar year goals.
Possession: United 65% Middlesbrough 35%
Shots at goal: United 15 Middlesbrough 6
Shots on target: United 3 Middlesbrough 0
Corners: United 7 Middlesbrough 2
Ibrahimovic was getting closer to his 13th Premier League goal of the season as Pogba fed a pass through to him, but the front man was this time denied by the legs of Valdes.
Martial tested Valdes as United looked to find that important opener, before the sucker punch on 67 minutes. A cross from Calum Chambers found Negredo whose cute headed knockdown was calmly side-footed home by Leadbitter to give the visitors the lead.
Ibrahimovic then had a glorious chance to level straight away, but again former Red Valdes denied him and Martial should have scored 10 minutes from time when one-on-one but Valdes came to the rescue again.
Five minutes from time, however, Martial was not to be denied as a long ball from Bailly was nodded on by Ibrahimovic and the Frenchman fired United level.
A minute later and Old Trafford erupted for a second time as the Reds turned the game on its head. A cross from substitute Juan Mata found Pogba who headed past the helpless Valdes meaning United ended 2016 in the most spectacular fashion.
Possession: United 66% Middlesbrough 34%
Shots at goal: United 32 Middlesbrough 9
Shots on target: United 12 Middlesbrough 2
Corners: United 12 Middlesbrough 2
United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling (Rashford 72), Bailly, Blind (Rojo 64); Fellaini (Mata 64), Herrera; Martial, Pogba, Mkhitaryan; Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: Romero, Jones, Lingard, Schweinsteiger.
Middlesbrough: Valdes, Chambers, Bernardo, Gibson, Friend; Leadbitter (Clayton 78), De Roon; Traore (Fabio 82), Downing (Ramirez 63); Negredo.
Subs not used: Guzan, Ayala, Stuani, Rhodes.