Middlesbrough (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United players were accused of sparking an ugly clash in the tunnel in a stormy aftermath to their 3-1 win at Middlesbrough.
United remain in contention for Champions League qualification after a hard-fought victory on Sunday, which ended with rival players separated by security staff in the tunnel when punches were reportedly thrown.
Middlesbrough captain Ben Gibson and United’s former England midfielder Ashley Young were restrained by team-mates as tempers flared.
Mourinho refused to comment, but Middlesbrough caretaker manager Steve Agnew insisted his players were reacting to provocation after a stoppage-time bust-up between United defender Eric Bailly and Rudy Gestede, which initially appeared to include the duo biting each other before replays showed it was only a heated clinch.
“I’m picking up there’s something gone on in the tunnel,” Agnew said.
“That many bodies were there, it was hard to tell with all the pushing and shoving.
“What triggered it off I don’t know? I’ve got a group of very well behaved players so I can assure you it wouldn’t be one of ours.
“What I would say it would have been a reaction because of the spirit they have.”
Mourinho had enflamed matters before the game by suggesting he ‘knew the names’ of the players he claimed had been responsible for the departure of Aitor Karanka, his former Real Madrid assistant who was sacked as Middlesbrough boss last week.
The Portuguese headed down the tunnel at the final whistle without acknowledging his opposite number, though Agnew confirmed the pair had shaken hands in the tunnel afterwards.
“Was this justice for Karanka?” Mourinho said after seeing his side extend their 18-game unbeaten league run to end a 19-week stay in sixth by climbing to fifth, two points ahead of Arsenal and Everton.
“I think justice for Karanka is the work he did here, people can never delete that. He took the club form the brink of League One to the Premier League.
“I know what I’m saying, he could have left for a bigger club and yet he stayed then in the end he loses his job.
“Despite all that’s happened, I still think he’ll be unhappy we have won, because he wants this club to stay in the Premier League.”
– Drought –
Middlesbrough’s hopes of achieving that aim look increasingly slim after an 11-game three-month run without a league win.
They at least ended their lengthy goal drought as Gestede pounced on a mistake by Chris Smalling to halve the arrears.