This had appeared to be another tale of how José Mourinho’s side could not turn domination into three points following Premier League draws with Burnley, Arsenal, Stoke City and Everton.
Anthony Martial equalised before Paul Pogba’s header with four minutes left sent Old Trafford into raptures. Martial’s goal came from a knock-down by Ibrahimovic. Pogba’s winner was created by a sweet right-foot cross from the substitute Juan Mata.
The breathless ending moved Usain Bolt to call MUTV to congratulate the team, though the presenter, Mandy Henry, did not realise it was the Olympic champion and later tweeted an apology. This caused Bolt to tweet: “Come on lad [sic] of course it was me on @ManUtd TV just now.”
Martial was outstanding and Mourinho had some curt words for the striker’s agent, Philippe Lamboley, who had said he was studying the option of a move to Sevilla: “Anthony needs to listen to me and not listen to his agent.
“He has to listen to me in training every day. Every feedback I give to players I give to improve players. Almost every day, I was having Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s agent calling me and saying: ‘Mkhitaryan with you will be a better player. Keep going.’ And with Martial, every day I read the newspaper – Martial goes to Sevilla, Martial goes on loan, he’s not happy. Martial needs to listen to me.
Having been given two touchline bans, Mourinho chose his words carefully regarding the referee. “Mr Mason knows he made a mistake. It’s sad because referees are sad when they make mistakes.”
Of the climactic end, he said: “In the last 20 minutes, the fans were on the pitch – they were not in the stands. And this is a credit to the players who showed amazing character to go and go and go and go.”
A bright start featured both sides having chances to score. The visitors’ opening came when Adama Traoré dispossessed Ander Herrera near halfway. From there the winger raced straight towards David de Gea’s goal but Traoré dilly-dallied and the threat fizzled out.
This was about as good as it got for the next quarter of an hour as United peppered Víctor Valdés’ goal. As is becoming usual for this United team, Mkhitaryan and Pogba were often involved. At one point the latter headed on to the former and his overhead kick grazed Valdés’s right post.
Mkhitaryan also delivered a corner on to Marouane Fellaini’s head that the midfielder directed straight at Valdés. Middlesbrough emerged from this and issued a warning. Traoré’s pace beat Daley Blind and Chris Smalling. When he turned the ball across the penalty area to George Friend, De Gea was exposed but the left-back’s shot was blocked by Fellaini.
Martial was having his best game in a long while. When the Frenchman hit a rocket at Valdés only his right-hand post saved Boro. However, the keeper was about to make himself unpopular at Old Trafford owing to the disallowed Ibrahimovic strike.
Yet again Martial was a key figure – his cross found the No9 who rose to stab home. Only after this did Ibrahimovic make contact with Valdés yet Mason, for some erroneous reason, ruled it out. Cue boos for the referee and for Valdés, who may have made a meal of the challenge.
This meant it was 0-0 as the second half began and United had 45 minutes to try to make their superiority count. Ibrahimovic was given a chance when Pogba fed him but his outside-of-the-boot attempt hit Valdés’s legs. Next, Pogba found the striker again and his cross-shot was nearly turned in by Mkhitaryan.
On 64 minutes Mourinho brought on Marcos Rojo for Blind and Mata for Fellaini. Now, though, came a blow: Calum Chambers pinged a ball in, Álvaro Negredo headed down, and Leadbitter struck. Marcus Rashford was thrown on and United went to three at the back.
Then came their memorable finish and, as Aitor Karanka, the Boro manager, said: “When you come here and play against Man United and you are winning 1-0, every team has to play at their best to beat us.”