Ronaldo penalty takes United into the last four
By Ian Griffiths
Old Trafford (espnstar.com) - Cristiano Ronaldo fired Manchester United into the FA Cup semi-finals at Old Trafford on Monday night as the talented Portuguese midfielder converted a penalty to help beat Middlesbrough 1-0 and set up next month's last four showdown with Watford.
The awarding of the decisive 76th minute spot-kick provoked a bitter reaction from Boro manager Gareth Southgate and his backroom staff who had accused Ronaldo of diving to earn a penalty when these two Premier League protagonists clashed earlier in the season.
Subsequent, and not surprisingly numerous, television replays showed that the visitors’ protestations were well wide of the mark. Quarter-final cup defeats, you know, can do that to even the most level headed of individuals.
As Southgate and Middlesbrough are left to fume, United march on, their hopes of repeating the club’s 1999 triumphant haul of FA Cup, Premiership and UEFA Champions League alive and well. In all honesty though, this was not one of their finest displays - more stutter than style you might say.
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>From Middlesbrough’s admirable centre-back pairing of Emanuel Pogatetz and Jonathan Woodgate through to an ever willing George Boateng in the centre of midfield and the muscle of Mark Viduka and Ayegbeni Yakubu up front, Southgate’s charges refused to give their illustrious hosts an inch.
Gone was the woeful insipidness that plagued their weekend defeat at the hands of struggling Manchester City, replaced instead by a drive and determination which, at times clearly left United both baffled and distinctly frustrated.
Despite Middlesbrough’s laudable resolve and United‘s ample head scratching, it was the hosts, fresh from mauling Bolton Wanderers 4-1, who edged proceedings during a first half in which clear cut chances were at a premium.
In a carbon copy of Saturday’s rout, United’s neat approach play was a delight to watch. With Ronaldo yet again to the fore, the men in red threatened to overwhelm Middlesbrough. On this occasion however, the clinical edge that has taken the Red Devils ever nearer to yet another Treble was noticeably absent.
First Cristiano Ronaldo lashed a fierce 8th minute drive wide before Woodgate produced a brilliant sliding tackle to deny Ronaldo’s cross finding the onrushing Alan Smith. Visiting goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer then produced a fine sprawling save when Wayne Rooney, who bagged a brace against Bolton, was bearing down on goal.
For one night at least, United’s killer instinct was struggling to make an appearance as they continually promised much but delivered very little. Doubt slowly but surely started to creep into the minds of the assembled Old Trafford faithful.
Having heard their manager talk confidently of his team’s chances ahead of the replay. Middlesbrough, perhaps also emboldened by United’s inability to carve out any real opportunities, visibly grew in confidence after the break.
Viduka, responsible for two stinging first-half efforts, produced a fine twisting run and neat pass only to see Stewart Downing wastefully fire over. The Australian’s strike partner Yakubu faired no better when he could only shoot tamely towards Tomasz Kuszczak following good work by Abel Xavier. How Middlesbrough must now rue spurning those all too brief moments of hope.
In a flash, they were behind. The alarm bells that had sounded following two Rooney chances which produced excellent Schwarzer stops and a Ronaldo effort that hit the woodwork, were still faintly audible when Ronaldo burst into the Middlesbrough box only to be clipped by Woodgate. Penalty said referee Mike Dean.
The 22-year-old dusted himself off to give United the lead from twelve yards. A record equalling 25th semi-final appearance beckoned for the Red Devils.
“We are glad to be there (in the semi-final). In the FA Cup we have played four Premiership teams and two replays, it tells you we want to get to the final,” revealed United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
“The players’ desire, their ambition and the resolve they have shown is fantastic. I am really proud of them,” added the Scot.
With the clock running down, Ronaldo produced an array of flicks and tricks in Middlesbrough’s defensive third as the visitors desperately tried to regain possession. The flamboyance proved too much for substitute James Morrison as the youngster hacked at United’s number seven to earn a red card that sealed a miserable night in the northwest for Middlesbrough.