MAN UNITED 2, READING 1
In a season which has provided so many magical stories in the FA Cup with Budweiser, Manchester United’s fifth-round tie with Reading certainly wasn’t one of them.
It was a decidedly lukewarm tie at Old Trafford which provided only the occasional flicker of excitement and which was decided by goals from substitute Nani and Javier Hernandez.
They came in a three-minute spell in the last quarter of the match just when it looked as the Royals might snatch a replay. And a late goal from Jobi McAnuff proved a mere consolation as the Reds made it through to the quarter finals.
Sir Alex Ferguson, however, was happy with the quality of United’s performance believing they could have won by a wider margin.
He said: “It ended up a really good cup tie when Reading scored and went for it.
“We played some great football and could have scored a lot of goals as we had shots blocked and saved.
“I was satisfied with the quality of our performance and we should have punished them. Goals change games and at 2-0 you are never comfortable.”
The respective team selections appeared to send out a message that the FA Cup isn’t top of their list of priorities.
David De Gea, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck were the only three starters from the side which kicked off their Champions League match at Real Madrid, though Wayne Rooney was ruled out through a sinus problem.
Reading, too, made six changes from their last Premier League match against Stoke.
After a bright opening, in which United could have scored twice in the opening four minutes, the early promise quickly evaporated to be replaced by a dull and disjointed cup clash.
There was only the occasional opening such as the great double save by Royals’ keeper Adam Federici to deny Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young’s follow-up effort.
It was late in the opening period when there was a flicker of excitement with the spark provided by Nani who had replaced the injured Phil Jones.
Nani struck the upright with a volley and also forced a decent save from Federici while Reading striker Adam Le Fondre forced a great save from De Gea.
Portuguese international Nani remained United’s most dangerous attacking threat after the restart and it was fitting that he should finally break the deadlock in the 69th minute with a low shot after being set up by Antonio Valencia.
De Gea pulled off another super save to deny Le Fondre before United doubled their advantage with Nani this time the provider. His cross from the right was converted by Hernandez with a near-post header, his 15th goal of the campaign.
If United thought they were home and dry, they were mistaken as defensive uncertainty allowed McAnuff to halve the deficit to ensure a nervous finish as United clung on to a slender advantage, though Hernandez had two great chances to seal victory in the latter stages, but each time was denied by the excellent Federici.