Ryan Giggs rolled back with the years with a midfield masterclass to edge Manchester United closer to a third successive Premier League title and push relegation-threatened Middlesbrough closer to the abyss.
Gareth Southgate, Boro's manager, had urged the Teesside faithful to turn the Riverside into a bearpit, but Giggs is too long in the tooth to be rattled by audible dissent and turned in a performance of such panache and poise to silence the critics who dared to suggest crowning him PFA Player of the Year last week was a sympathy vote.
The 35-year-old was simply untouchable in the United engine room and picked holes in the Middlesbrough midfield with consummate ease. Southgate's charges huffed and puffed but lacked the craft and guile to get near to the experienced Welshman and the equally-impressive Paul Scholes in what proved to be a one-sided contest.
It was fitting that Giggs would mark a week in which he passed the 800 appearances barrier with a sublime finish to set the visitors on their way to a 2-0 victory. The skipper sent a low drive past goalkeeper Brad Jones on 25 minutes and the life seemed to drain for Boro. Ji-Sung Park made sure of the points late on when he latched onto a delightful Wayne Rooney through-ball and the rest was a formality.
Sir Alex Ferguson was in no doubt about the architect of United's win and argued Middlesbrough's young players had much to learn from his captain marvel. He said: "What more can I say? He was fantastic. I think that goal sealed the victory. Once we got in front, that was the key to it because Middlesbrough are a young side."
Both sides have bigger battles ahead, albeit for contrasting reasons, and United will have to be more clinical when they travel to north London for Tuesday's Champions League semi-final second-leg against Arsenal when Giggs is expected to take a back seat. Middlesbrough, however, are in freefall and their top-flight destiny could be determined by what happens when they face north-east rivals and fellow strugglers Newcastle next at St James' Park.