MATT Crooks has had sleepless nights thinking about Middlesbrough’s FA Cup clash with Manchester United as the midfielder returns to the club he supported as a young boy.

Crooks, now 27 and playing professional football in the Championship, spent many afternoons in the stands at Old Trafford watching some of the greatest players grace the hallowed turf at the Theatre of Dreams. He’s always had a long lasting affection for the club having played for their academy at a young age before being released at the age of 14.

There is always stiff competition to get tickets to any Old Trafford fixture, even more so during the club’s most successful days under Sir Alex Ferguson. But by the sounds of it, Crooks did well to get to some of their most famous games.

He said: “The Aston Villa game or the (Ferderico) Macheda game sticks out but the one I remember the most is the Ronaldo hat-trick for Real Madrid. They won the game but they got knocked out.

“I remember everyone giving him a standing ovation. That one sticks out.

“Or maybe Scholes against Barcelona in the semi final where they were just defending for 90 minutes but he came up with an absolute worldie.”

Did Crooks celebrate when Boro and United were pulled out of the hat alongside each other? Of course he did.

“I was having my Sunday dinner at Linthorpe Hall and I was watching it on Sky Go and I was a little bit behind so I had about seven or eight messages coming through about United.

“Obviously I found out and just gave a little fist pump in the restaurant.”

It’s no wonder he’s had sleepless nights thinking about stepping out on the turf at Old Trafford which would be a first in his career.

The Northern Echo:

Crooks has been one of the star performers for Boro this season and sits second in their goalscoring charts with six goals. He’s become a favourite amongst the fans and earned rave reviews for his performances. But as he eagerly awaits the game of his life, he’s not taking his place in the team for granted.

The midfielder added: “Hopefully I play but you never know until you get the team sheet. I’m looking forward to it. It’s definitely going to be the biggest game of my career. Laid in bed last night thinking ‘am I going to play? Am I not going to play?’

“Although I’m looking forward to it, whatever team the gaffer selects it will be one that he wants to win the game.

“I’ve been going to the matches since I was a little boy with my grandad, my dad and other members so I’ve been in the stands watching United as a fan growing up. I seen the Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo, Scholes, Keane, all those guys so it would be a dream come true for me to play at Old Trafford.

The Northern Echo: Wayne Rooney (left) played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo as part of Sir Alex Ferguson's all-conquering Manchester United side

“Obviously it’s not for Man United but it’s still at Old Trafford against them so it will be a big thing for me.

“It will be totally different. Once you are actually on the pitch you don’t really take in surroundings as much. You’re just focused on the game. But if I do play, it’s one of those things where I don’t want to be in awe of my surroundings. It’s still a big game and we’ve got to go there with the thought that we can win the game.

“It will probably be a bit surreal. I’m used to watching them on TV. Obviously I was growing up as a United fan when Ronaldo and Rooney. If I had the chance to go up against him (Ronaldo), I think that would probably be the biggest thing.

“I want to be excited but I don’t want to hype it up too much and not focus on the match in hand. Obviously it will be surreal. I’m not used to playing the likes of Pogba, Ronaldo. It’s challenge where I hope they get put out and one I can look forward to.”

Boro are going to be backed to the tilt by over 9,000 fans at Old Trafford to no one’s surprise. The travelling support, a possibility of another win in the cup and a night under the lights harps back to memories of Boro’s Carabao Cup penalty shootout win in 2015 where they famously beat the Red Devils after 120 minutes of football couldn’t decide a winner.

Crooks is a player that has struck up a wonderful relationship with the Boro fans even though he signed from Rotherham Untied in the summer. After scoring a late brace to hand them a win over Reading a few weeks ago, Crooks ran back out onto the pitch around 15 minutes after full-time to celebrate with the Red Faction.

Does Crooks have the same visions of similar celebrations at Old Trafford?

The tall midfielder admitted: “I was visualising that last night in bed. I won’t lie. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t.

“It’s what football is all about. The emotion and moments like that. I can visualise them if they happen or not but we’ll see. I’m just ready for training, focus on the game and seen what the gaffer has in store for us.”