| Manchester United’s David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrate after the latter scored against Middlesborough at Old Trafford on Tuesday. (Reuters)
London: Manchester United struggled to convert their domination into goals as they laboured to a 1-0 Premier League win over Middlesborough at Old Trafford courtesy of a disputed penalty by Ruud van Nistelrooy Tuesday.
But the evening ended on a sour note for United with the news that England captain David Beckham would miss Saturday’s friendly against Portugal after pulling up with a calf injury.
It was United’s second win from four games and avenged two defeats by Boro last season. The result lifted them to fourth place, two points behind Tottenham Hotspur.
United went in front in the 27th minute in questionable circumstances when Van Nistelrooy went down as he tussled with Boro defender Ugo Ehiogu.
But referee Mike Riley had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and the Dutchman, making his 50th appearance for United, smashed the spot-kick into the roof of the net.
“I thought we were unlucky to concede the penalty,” said Boro manager Steve McLaren. “There were plenty of innocuous challenges like that in a match.”
United welcomed back keeper Fabien Barthez and midfielder Paul Scholes from injury but they missed the urgency of skipper Roy Keane, who has been sidelined for three months with a hip problem needing surgery and faces bans over disciplinary issues.
“We made it difficult for ourselves,” United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted. “We should have finished them off but they kept fighting, fighting, fighting.
“We created a number of good openings but tried to put too much icing on the cake, if you like. We lacked the killer instinct.”
Ryan Giggs, playing his 350th league match for United, had the best chance of a tight start to the match when he sprinted down the left from the halfway mark before shooting inches wide.
McLaren’s side struggled to make an impression in the final third of the field but they sniffed an opening when Robbie Stockdale’s cross caused confusion before the danger was cleared by England’s Rio Ferdinand, who was in imperious form.
United grew in confidence as the first half progressed and Giggs almost made it 2-0 when his low drive whistled past an upright.
The second half began quietly with United content just to pass the ball around without ever threatening the opposition goal.
Some penalty box trickery by Scholes almost set up a goal for Giggs but the Welshman miscued his shot with his less favoured right foot.
Boro had two good chances midway through the second period but Massimo Maccarone sliced his shot wide and George Boateng had his long-range effort pushed around the post by Barthez.
The United fans began to voice their impatience at their team’s failure to secure the result, but they escaped with all three points and their unbeaten start to the season intact.