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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 17:00 GMT
Giggs inspires Man Utd win
Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Van Nistelrooy on target for United again
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Middlesbrough 0-1 Manchester United

Manchester United continued their Premiership rehabilitation with a hard-fought win over Middlesbrough.

Ruud van Nistlerooy scored the only goal of the game - but it was the returning Ryan Giggs who made all the difference.

His first start in a month provided United with the impetus they had been lacking for most of the game.

And it was the Welshman's telling cross that set up Van Nistelrooy. Boro keeper Mark Crossley fumbled the ball into the Dutchman's path.

It was time to give Ryan Giggs his chance and it proved significant because he made the goal
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

The result means United have closed the gap on leaders Liverpool, but they will have to perfom much better if they are to retain their title.

Sir Alex Ferguson opted to stick with the same 10 outfield players who beat Derby so convincingly in midweek.

Roy Carroll took Fabien Barthez's place in goal after the Frenchman picked up a back injury against the Rams.

The game started scrappily, with neither side establishing any rhythm or pattern to their play.

75 mins: Ruud van Nistelrooy taps in from close range
United were forced into an early defensive change when John O'Shea overstretched and had to withdraw injured.

Phil Neville was brought on in his place.

A strangely subdued atmosphere at the Riverside Stadium was matched by a largely uneventful first half.

I've never believed Manchester United are in crisis - they've got too good players and too good a manager and staff to be that
Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren
Former United players Jonathan Greening and Paul Ince combined well, but the latter's shot was well wide of the target.

Mikael Silvestre instigated one of United's better moves, finding Van Nistelrooy in the Boro area.

The Dutch striker set up Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but he too failed to threaten the Boro goal.

Welsh wizadry

Van Nistelrooy did go close with a strike from 25 yards out on the half-hour mark, which then resulted in a spell of United pressure.

Yet the only two events of real note for the visitors were the yellow cards issued to Silvestre and Nicky Butt for clumsy challenges.

Both sides picked up the tempo after the interval, and there was a greater sense of urgency about United.

Manchester United's Paul Scholes is tackled by Boro's Jonathan Greening
Greening faces former team-mate Scholes

Ferguson's side pushed on in search of the opener and United did soon get the ball in the back of the Boro net.

However, referee David Elleray ruled that Butt had committed a foul before heading past Crossley.

With the game seemingly heading for a draw, Giggs was brought on to give United some much-needed natural width.

It was the winger's first game back since 17 November following a hamstring injury and his introduction visibily spurred on the visitors.

Crossley made a fine save to deny Roy Keane, who again produced a virtuoso captain's display.

But the Boro keeper turned villain soon after when he fumbled Giggs' cross straight to the feet of Van Nistelrooy, who could hardly miss.

Giggs almost capped an impressive return to action with a goal but Crossley saved that time.

At the other end, Ince went agonisingly close late on and Carroll denied Boro substitute Noel Whelan, pulling off an superb reflex save.

Middlesbrough: Crossley, Stockdale, Southgate, Ehiogu, Queudrue, Ince, Greening, Mustoe, Marinelli, Boksic, Ricard. Subs: Beresford, Cooper, Okon, Nemeth, Whelan.

Man Utd: Carroll, Gary Neville, Blanc, O'Shea, Silvestre, Veron, Keane, Butt, Scholes, van Nistelrooy, Solskjaer. Subs: Van Der Gouw, Phil Neville, Giggs, Yorke, Irwin.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).

BBC Sport's John Murray
"Manchester United might well be on the march again"
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson
"They played totally as a team today"
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