MANCHESTER United moved above Arsenal into fifth and within touching distance of fourth place as they edged past an improved Boro in Steve Agnew’s first game in charge.
Boro made a bright start in an open game winning a corner early in the game and stretching United.
Stewart Downing, coming in off the right, was prominent in Boro’s early possession, distribution measured and effective. Gaston Ramirez, from the left, often giving Eric Bailly something to think about.
It was the visitors who created the first chance with seven minutes played when Jesse Lingard threaded a low ball behind Bernardo to set up Marcus Rashford. He was through at an angle but looked likely to curl a shot on target. He hadn’t factored in enough curl and Victor Valdes produced a smart save away to his left.
David De Gea was next in action, flying away to his left to push a Ramirez shot around for a corner.
Back into Boro’s box and more acrobatics from Valdes as Juan Mata crossed low from out wide in the penalty area, Rashford, in front of goal, struck low. Valdes pushed away and was quick enough to turn round a follow-up shot from Antonio Valencia.
United were beginning to get behind Boro’s full-back and cause problems.
They took the lead with just over 29 minutes played as Ashley Young swung over a deep, well-weighted cross. For a second Valdes thought about going for it and quickly realised he wouldn’t make it and retreated to his line leaving the mis-match of Marouane Fellaini jumping with Fabio at the back post to head over Valdes.
There was almost an immediate response with Boro back on the offensive bit the ball just wouldn’t run for Negredo in the penalty area.
The goal hadn’t dented Boro’s confidence. Adam Clayton still snapped into challenges, there was still plenty movement and an equal amount of energy.
Approaching the break however it was United, with the classy Rashford at the head of affairs, who created another chance with the young England player for once making the wrong choice as, with half a chance to shoot, he attempted to set up Mata on the edge of the penalty area and Bernardo cleared.
Half-time Middlesbrough 0 Manchester United 1
United began the second half on the front foot and it took smart covering from Ben Gibson to cut out a potentially dangerous cross from Valencia.
Boro were in no mood to sit back and wait for something to happen and a deep cross from Fabio out on the left was only just too high for Negredo.
Plenty possession, but few chances against a United side who at times pulled everyone back behind the ball, was the story of the early exchanges of the second half for Boro.
The answer to finding a way though came on 62 minutes as United swept from one end of the field to the other with ease as possession was won just up from the right edge of the penalty area to start a move which ended with an unstoppable shot from Jesse Lingard on the edge of the Boro box.
Agnew made a double change a few minutes later and Boro pushed even higher, retaining a lot of possession.
Eventually they found a way through as United failed to defend adequately when Downing crossed deep from the left and Negredo headed back into the mix leaving Rudy Gestede to tuck home from close range – was Boro’s first Premier League goal for 510 minutes and the first in the top flight for Gestede since March last year.
The goal came on 77 minutes and set up a very interesting finish.
Boro pressed on for an equaliser, Alvaro Negredo going closest when he muscled his way past Phil Jones in the United area, but the Spaniard couldn’t squeeze his shot on target.
And against the run of play, United added a third when a slip from the otherwise excellent Valdes allowed Antonio Valencia the opportunity to walk the ball into an empty net.
Full-time Middlesbrough 1 Manchester United 3
Scorers Fellaini 29, Lingard 62, Gestede 77, Valencia 90+3.
Middlesbrough: Valdes; Barragan, Bernardo, Gibson (Capt. from 67), Fabio, Clayton, Leadbitter (Capt. to 67) (Gestede 67), De Roon, Downing, Ramirez (Traore 67), Negredo. Subs: Guzan (gk); Fry, Forshaw, Guedioura, Stuani. Order of subs on 67: 1) Gestede 2) Traore
Manchester United: De Gea; Bailly, Jones, Mata (Rojo 68), Smalling, Lingard (Martial 79), Carrick (Capt.), Young, Rashford (Darmian 90+4), Valencia, Fellaini. Subs: Romero (gk); Mkhitaryan, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah.
Referee Jonathan Moss. West Yorkshire
Boro Clayton 33, unsporting behaviour.
Man United Jones 25, foul.
Conditions Mild, breezy and overcast
Attendance 32,689 (3,018 United)
mfc.co.uk Man of the Match Adam Clayton