Manchester United had to overcome some questionable refereeing decisions to beat Middlesbrough 2-1 at Old Trafford, thanks to late goals from Paul Pogba and man of the match Anthony Martial.
Jose Mourinho shuffled his deck for the visit of the promoted side, as Michael Carrick and Phil Jones were among the players rested, with Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marouane Fellaini, Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly restored to the line-up.
The visitors started brightly, with Adama Traore breaking through the middle and slicing the United defence apart in the opening minutes. The former Barcelona youngster’s decision-making let him down, though, as he failed to play in a better-positioned team-mate; a let-off for Mourinho’s men.
United then took control and began to attack. Martial looked bright on the left wing, reaching the byline and cutting back for Zlatan Ibrahimovic whose shot was blocked.
In the 14th minute Old Trafford was almost treated to a second acrobatic wonder-goal in the space of a week when Pogba’s bicycle kick struck the post — like Mkhitaryan’s scorpion strike at the weekend, Pogba should have been flagged offside but wasn’t.
Though United were controlling possession, Boro remained a threat thanks to the blistering pace of Traore, who beat Daley Blind out wide before picking out George Friend inside the area. The full-back’s goalbound shot was blocked by Fellaini.
Just after the half-hour mark, Martial picked out Fellaini inside the box, but the Belgian’s header flew just over Victor Valdes’ goal. Minutes later, Mkhitaryan ended a mazy dribble by shooting just wide from the left side of the penalty area.
United had the ball in the net in the 38th minute only for the goal to be ruled out. Martial rattled the post from 25 yards before collecting the rebound himself, beating Callum Chambers and crossing for Ibrahimovic.
The big Swede finished with an athletic volley, but referee Lee Mason halted the celebrations having deemed the former Paris Saint Germain star to have fouled Valdes as he shot for goal; replays showed the decision to be farcical; United’s lead should have stood but, instead, the score remained level at the break.
Early in the second period Ibrahimovic was given another sight of goal, played in by a delightful Pogba through-ball. Valdes saved well with his feet this time.
As the hour mark passed without United forging many more clear-cut chances, Mourinho introduced Juan Mata and Marcos Rojo for Fellaini and Blind.
In the 67th minute, disatser struck for the Red Devils, as former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo nodded Chambers’ cross into the path of Grant Leadbitter who beat David de Gea from 10 yards.
Ibrahimovic almost hit back immediatley for United, but his close-range shot was smothered by Valdes. Marcus Rashford came on for Chris Smalling shortly after, with the home side switching to three at the back.
The teenager had an instant impact as he dribbled through the left side of the box before rolling the ball across the face of the goal, but no United player was able to provide the finishing touch.
With 12 minutes to play, Rashford was denied a penalty when he was hauled to the ground; Lee Mason saw no infringement.
Then it was Martial’s turn to see a penalty appeal waved away: the Frenchman’s cross appeared to strike a Middlesbrough arm. Undeterred, the former Monaco forward burst through on goal when picked out by Mkhitaryan, but Valdes again saved.
But with five minutes to play, Martial got the goal his outstanding performance deserved. It was a long ball out from the back from Pogba which Ibrahimovic flicked on for the 21-year-old to smash home.
And two minutes later United were in front when Mata crossed for Pogba. The world’s most expensive player coolly headed into the top corner to give the home side a deserved lead. Boro had a penalty appeal of their own turned down in the build-up.
United continued to press forward in the closing stages but were happy to settle for a 2-1 victory as the final whistle blew.