LONDON • Manchester United moved into fifth place in the English Premier League yesterday with a 3-1 victory away to struggling Middlesbrough, who had sacked manager Aitor Karanka on Thursday.
Ahead of the game, Jose Mourinho had said his team would "probably lose" because their current fixture congestion would lead to fatigue, but despite missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Wayne Rooney and Ander Herrera, they counter-attacked with aplomb.
The United manager praised his side for their "good attitude" when they were required to step up in place of the absentees.
"What was good? The attitude. The desire. And our way of thinking. We don't have A, B, C, D, E, F, G, but we have L, M, N, S, O, P," said Mourinho after the match.
"We started the game really well, we controlled everything until our second goal and then they changed the game. They started putting long balls in the box, we decided to play with an extra defender but with the mistake of letting them push too much into our box.
"Then there was a fighting 15 minutes when they didn't have chances but the game was alive until the last second."
Belgium international Marouane Fellaini headed United in front after almost half an hour's play for his first league goal of the season and Jesse Lingard scored the second just after the hour mark with a fierce shot from 20 metres.
Manchester United are the first team to record
Premier League wins.
Middlesbrough's substitute Rudy Gestede pulled a goal back with 12 minutes left, but in added time goalkeeper Victor Valdes slipped.
Antonio Valencia, who was making his 200th league appearance for United, took advantage of his former club mate's misfortune and scored his team's third goal.
United are also the first side to record 600 Premier League wins.
"It's fantastic because we managed in the same week to go to the quarter-final of the Europa League, which was an important target for us, and we got these three points," added Mourinho.
"So we still have two doors open to play Champions League football for next season.
Tottenham 2 Southampton 1
Manchester City v Liverpool
For match reports, go to straitstimes.com
"It was too much for us - injured players, tired players, suspended players. These guys today, they were magnificent."
In an incident not seen by the match officials, Gestede initially appeared to bite United defender Eric Bailly in a stoppage-time melee on the edge of the visitors' area.
The altercation was missed by referee Jon Moss and his assistants.
Replays showed there was no contact as the pair engaged in an angry clinch, but punches appeared to be thrown afterwards in the players' tunnel as both sides left the pitch.
Middlesbrough, by far the lowest-scoring team in the league with only 20 goals this season, have still not won a league game this year.
Caretaker manager Steve Agnew remained optimistic despite the loss.
"If we show that kind of commitment and intensity from now to the end of the season, then we have a real chance of staying in this league," he said.
When asked if he would like to take on the role on a full-time basis, he added: "Of course I want to be manager. It's a club I have a big affection for.
"It's just a pleasure to be in charge of a team, and see a team respond like they did. I know in the coming games we'll take the same fighting spirit until the end of the season."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Manchester United 3