MIDDLESBROUGH, May 2 – Manchester United extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to a commanding six points as goals from Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung sealed a comfortable 2-0 win away to Middlesbrough.Giggs struck his fourth goal of the season before the break here at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday to help double United’s points advantage over title rivals Liverpool, who host Newcastle on Sunday.
And South Korea international Park deservedly doubled their advantage early in the second-half as reigning champions United, seeking to equal Liverpool’s record of 18 English titles, strolled to a fifth consecutive league victory.
United couldn’t have asked for an easier warm-up for Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final trip to Arsenal, where they defend a single-goal first-leg lead, as they showed little sign of fatigue despite clocking up their 60th game of a season that could yet see them win four trophies.
Despite United winning at a canter, there had been little to choose between the teams before Giggs – almost a week after his peers the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) voted him player of the year – broke the deadlock midway through the first-half.
Middlesbrough’s Jeremie Aliadiere spurned the best chance to open the scoring, when he saw his shot blocked by the feet of goalkeeper Ben Foster after the forward, under pressure from defender Nemanja Vidic, had been put through by Marlon King.
Giggs, one of seven United changes from the team that started in the 1-09 Champions League victory over Arsenal on Wednesday, showed the Frenchman how it should be done after 25 minutes.
The former Wales international produced a clinical finish left-footed into the bottom corner from 20 yards after Federico Macheda had squared England striker Wayne Rooney’s centre back across the edge of the area.
Middlesbrough appeals that Dimitar Berbatov fouled Matthew Bates as the ball made its way through to Giggs were ignored by referee Mark Halsey as United sealed a third league and cup victory over Boro this season.
Macheda should have doubled the advantage straight after the break when Rooney beat Tony McMahon to provide an inviting cut-back, only for the teenage striker to poke the chance wide at the near post from five yards.
United didn’t have long to wait for their growing dominance to be rewarded as Park claimed their second in the 51st minute.
Rooney was again the architect, with a sublime slide-rule ball into the area which wrong-footed the Middlesbrough defence to allow Park to fire home his third goal of the season from 12 yards past stranded keeper Brad Jones.
Only a desperate late block from Bates, the hosts’ best player, prevented John O’Shea – the goalscorer from Wednesday’s Champions League clash – from adding a third from close range inside the last 10 minutes as Boro left gaps at the back in a fruitless bid to find a way back into the contest.
A first home defeat for more than four months left Middlesbrough second from bottom and three points adrift of safety with just three games remaining, starting with the crucial derby trip to Newcastle on May 11.
But after just two victories in their last 23 league games, the Teesside club need to show a vast improvement in form if they are to extend their 11-year stay in the top flight.