Jesse Lingard relieved after Manchester United move into top five

Jesse Lingard scored in Manchester United's win at Middlesbrough
Jesse Lingard scored in Manchester United's win at Middlesbrough

Jesse Lingard’s relief was palpable after Manchester United finally escaped sixth place.

United extended an unmatched unbeaten run to an 18th league game on Sunday as relegation-threatened Middlesbrough were overcome 3-1 at the Riverside Stadium.

The Red Devils’ 600th Premier League win was a timely shot in the arm as the race for Champions League qualification heats up and finally meant they end a game week out of sixth spot.

United had ended every round of fixtures in that position since November and Lingard was pleased to help his team get over the hump with a spectacular second-half strike.

“That was my first Prem goal so it was a long time coming,” he said.

“But I think the lads dug in deep today, a great victory and we’ll push on forwards now.

“We have been there a very long time after a lot of games.

“We have dropped a few points with the draws that we had when we should have won, so it is good to move up finally and we have got to concentrate on the next game.”

The international break means United will not be in action again until hosting West Brom on April 1 – a match Mourinho’s side will head into with renewed belief.

There remains issues to contend with, but a togetherness and confidence is being cultivated at Old Trafford.

The fighting spirit was epitomised by the way they stood up for one another in altercations towards the end of the Riverside encounter, while the confidence was highlighted by Lingard’s fine strike and his Drake-inspired celebration.

“You know you don’t shoot, you don’t score,” Lingard said.

“We have started taking it upon ourselves to shoot outside the box and see what happens.

“I promised my friend I’d do something involving a flute. It is just this song that came out today by Drake.”

Such celebrations were recently criticised by the likes of former United defender Rio Ferdinand, but Lingard does not pay much attention to criticism.

“I don’t really look into social media too much and what people write,” he said.

“You’ve got to perform for your club and if you make the manager happy, then that’s the most important thing.

“He just wants us to be happy. I think football makes you happy and you’ve got to enjoy it.”

Lingard joked he had to do the celebration as Marcus Rashford, within earshot, fluffed his lines on Teesside.

The duo are among five United players to have linked up with Gareth Southgate’s England squad and Lingard has dismissed concerns over his fitness after limping off in the second half.

“Not too bad,” he said. “Obviously I’ll report with England and see how it goes.

“It was the (Adam) Clayton tackle in the first half. There’s something with my foot so we’ll see how it goes.

“I think the squad that he has picked this time is a very young squad, a lot of players from the under-21s.

“Obviously (James) Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond have done very well so I think they deserve their place.

“Two tough games, Germany will be a good test for us and obviously we’ve still got to qualify (for the World Cup).”

While Lingard looks forward to a bright future with United and England, Middlesbrough are looking to find their footing.

Boro produced a promising display against United and caretaker manager Steve Agnew will have done his chances of replacing Aitor Karanka permanently little harm.

“It’s a club I have a big affection for,” he said.

“I love the people in the area, the passionate crowd and north east football. It’s a pleasure to be in charge of a team and see them respond like they did.

“I know in the coming games we’ll take that same fighting spirit.”

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