Tunnel bust-up mars United’s 3-1 win at Middlesbrough
Jose Mourinho’s men win the points but not before a heated on-field fracas that continued after the game, while Tottenham defeat Southampton 2-1 to close the gap on leaders Chelsea
A tunnel bust-up erupted after Manchester United’s 3-1 win at Middlesbrough on Sunday that lifted Jose Mourinho’s team out of sixth place in the Premier League for the first time in 19 weeks.
There was a heated on-field fracas involving Middlesbrough’s Rudy Gestede and United’s Eric Bailly in stoppage time and the dispute continued after the game, coming to a head in the tunnel.
Bailly and his teammate, Ashley Young, appeared most unhappy.
Fielding a weakened team and playing their third game in six days, United looked like easing to victory after goals by Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard – a spectacular strike from the edge of the area – put the visitors 2-0 up by the 62nd minute.
Middlesbrough, whoh fired manager Aitor Karanka on Thursday, dominated the final half-hour and reduced the deficit in the 77th when Gestede took advantage of defensive errors to score from close range.
United held out despite late pressure and added a third in the third minute of injury time when Middlesbrough goalkeeper Victor Valdes – a former United player – slipped as he was about to make a clearance, allowing Antonio Valencia to walk the ball into the net.
United moved above Arsenal into fifth place with an eighth win in their last 11 matches in all competitions.
“The game was tough,” Fellaini said. “They pushed and played long balls and are physical. We did it. We did well.”
United manager Jose Mourinho was without suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera, while Paul Pogba was injured and Henrikh Mkhitaryan was only on the substitutes’ bench.
Mourinho praised United’s refusal to let fatigue get the better of them.
“I applaud our attitude and desire and our way of thinking,” Mourinho said.
“We don’t have plan B, C, D, E, F and G – but we have M, N, O, P and S.
“It is fantastic because we manage in the same week, to go to the quarter-finals of the Europa League which is an important target for us.
“At the same time, we got these three points that keep us in the race for the fourth position so we still have two doors for Champions League football next season.
“These guys gave everything, we started the game really well, Valdes made three fantastic saves before our first goal. We controlled everything until our second goal.”
Players from both teams were reportedly involved in a tunnel brawl after the full-time whistle, but Fellaini wouldn’t comment when asked about the clashes.
“I didn’t see. I don’t know, I was in the dressing room,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tottenham overcame the absence of leading scorer Harry Kane to beat Southampton 2-1 and close the gap on Chelsea on Sunday.
First half goals from Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli at White Hart Lane gave Mauricio Pochettino’s side the cushion they needed to hold onto victory after James Ward-Prowse halved the deficit early in the second half.
With 10 games remaining, the chances of overhauling Chelsea’s 10-point lead are slim, but victory strengthened Spurs’ position in the race to guarantee a top four finish by extending the gap to fifth place to seven points.
Southampton are well clear of the relegation places and their remaining aim this season is to maintain their top 10 standing.
Pochettino had insisted before the game his squad had the resources to cope with the loss of Kane, who was ruled out for up to six weeks after picking up an ankle injury in the FA Cup quarter-final victory over Millwall seven days previously.
The manager’s confidence was not necessarily supported by the evidence from the opening months of the season when his team struggled in the absence of the England striker.
Then, Kane was sidelined for 12 games and in the nine games Spurs faced Premier League opposition during that spell, they won just three, scoring eight games.
Pochettino, though, believes his squad has grown in strength as the season has progressed and placed his faith in Son Heung-min to fill the gap left by Kane and provide the focal point to Tottenham’s attack.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse