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MANCHESTER, Dec 31 (Reuters) - - Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial scored late goals as Manchester United came from behind to beat Middlesbrough 2-1 on Saturday and spare Jose Mourinho the embarrassment of losing to his former assistant Aitor Karanka.
Grant Leadbitter latched on to a clever knockdown from Alvaro Negredo to give the visitors the lead in the 67th minute against the run of play after United had hit the woodwork twice and had a goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic ruled out in the first half.
United continued to rain shots down at the Stretford End after going behind but kept being thwarted by a defiant Victor Valdes, the former Barcelona goalkeeper who spent a troubled 12 months at United, playing just two games.
Ibrahimovic had an acrobatic finish ruled out by referee Lee Mason for dangerous play after clashing with Valdes when he converted Martial's cross, denying the Swede a 51st club goal of the year which would have taken him level with Lionel Messi as the top scorer in Europe in 2016.
"Lee will be very disappointed for sure as now he must know it was the wrong decision. It would have been amazing for Zlatan to be the top scorer of 2016 with such a great player as Messi but it was another test for us," said Mourinho.
Ibrahimovic eventually set up the sparkling Martial to finally power the equaliser beyond the Spanish goalkeeper in the 85th minute.
One minute later substitute Juan Mata crossed for record signing Pogba to head into the top corner and complete Mourinho's first comeback as United coach, one that would have pleased the watching Sir Alex Ferguson on his 75th birthday.
It was a cruel ending for Karanka, Mourinho's trusted number two at Real Madrid between 2010 and 2013 and whose side hover four points above the relegation zone and have not won away from home in the league since August.
"I feel for my brother (Karanka) but the reality is that we really deserved to win," added the Portuguese coach, whose side are sixth on 36 points after a fifth straight league victory.
United goalkeeper David de Gea added: "It was a great comeback for the team, this is the Manchester United everyone knows, when you are losing 1-0 with 10 minutes to go you score two great goals. It's fantastic for us."
Editing by Ed Osmond/Rex Gowar