Rooney saves United, Everton down Derby

Wayne Rooney scored an equaliser as Manchester United hit back for a 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough on Sunday, which left them three points clear in the Premier League.

After second-place Chelsea’s 2-0 victory at Manchester City on Saturday, the Red Devils needed to win at the Riverside and took a 10th-minute lead through Cristiano Ronaldo. It was his 37th goal of the season in all competitions.

But Afonso Alves struck twice for his first goals for Boro, only for Rooney to deny the home side an upset victory with a 74th-minute goal.

The result means United have a three-point lead over Chelsea and a six-point lead over third-place Arsenal, who drew 1-1 at home to fourth-place Liverpool on Saturday. United host Arsenal next Sunday.

”I’ve said for a while the most consistent team would win and we have to maintain that consistency that we’ve shown these last few weeks,” said United manager Alex Ferguson. ”We’ve got a point today [Sunday] from what I look upon as a difficult fixture. There were periods when I thought we were going to win it but, in the context of the whole game, I thought it was a fair result.

”I thought it was a fantastic game of football, the pace of the game was terrific and you’ve got to give credit to our opponents. If we had scored a second goal [at 1-0] I think we would have gone on to win it.”

In Sunday’s other Premier League match, fifth place Everton edged relegated Derby 1-0 with a 56th-minute goal by Leon Osman.

In a meeting of two League Championship sides, Cardiff beat Barnsley 1-0 at Wembley for a place in the FA Cup final on May 17. They will meet Premier League side Portsmouth, who edged West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in Saturday’s semifinal match.

Joe Ledley scored the only goal in the ninth minute as Cardiff returned to the final for the first time since they won the trophy in 1927, the only Welsh club to do so.

At Middlesbrough, in a thrilling, high-quality game with snow falling at the Riverside, the score could easily have been 2-2 by half-time.

After Ronaldo’s 30m free kick had been deflected over the bar, Boro failed to clear the corner and Michael Carrick found the winger unmarked with a low cross from the left. Ronaldo struck the ball first time into the roof of the net with his left foot from 12m for his 27th league goal.

Ronaldo almost made it 2-0 in the 30th when he dribbled past four Boro defenders and only had goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to beat but shot well wide of near post. United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar then blocked a powerful 30m free kick from Alves before the Brazilian equalised in the 35th minute.

Gary O’Neil’s long ball was flicked on by Jeremie Aliadiere and found Alves clear of the United defence, and he slid it past Van der Sar for the first league goal conceded by United in six games.

United claimed a penalty when a powerful 20m shot from Ronaldo struck Andrew Taylor on the arm but referee Mike Riley turned it down.

Boro almost added a second in the 40th when a cross found Stewart Downing totally unmarked and Van der Sar raced off his line to block the winger’s close range shot.

The home side went ahead in the 55th when Aliadiere won the ball in the air and Alves controlled it to run clear of the defence and slide it past Van der Sar.

The Brazilian, signed from Dutch club Heerenveen during the January transfer window, almost added a third three minutes later when Aliadiere again won the ball in air, but Alves’s close-range effort was blocked by Rio Ferdinand.

Already without Nemanja Vidic for three weeks with a knee injury, United lost his central defensive partner, Ferdinand, with an ankle problem only three days before they defend a 2-0 Champions League lead

over AS Roma.

But the Red Devils struck back to equalise 16 minutes from the end.

Substitute Park Ji-sung set up the chance with a break down the right, turning inside Taylor and crossing for Rooney to stab the ball home from 10m.

Saturday’s other results were: Aston Villa 4, Bolton 0; Blackburn 1, Tottenham 1; Fulham 1, Sunderland 3; Newcastle 3, Reading 0; Wigan 2, Birmingham 0. — Sapa-AP

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