Man Utd 1, Reading 0
Fifteen points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, a better goal difference of 13 and 18 more goals scored….. surely Manchester United can’t blow it this time?
Yet this was a performance lacking in conviction, bereft of ideas and barely enough to stagger across the winning line.
If you hadn’t known the respective position of the sides, you would have struggled to tell which team was top and who was joint bottom of the table.
City’s defeat at Everton earlier in the day should have left United high on confidence with the adrenalin flowing like a fountain, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from this disjointed Old Trafford performance against managerless Reading..
Although striker Wayne Rooney capped a good performance with a somewhat fortunate 16th goal of the season, central defender Rio Ferdinand was United’s star player.
While those around him stuttered at times, Ferdinand was solid as a rock at the heart of United’s back line.
Composed, assured and still one of the most elegant defenders in English football, his recall to the national squad at the age of 34 is well merited.
Ferdinand was also instrumental in the only goal of the game scored in the 21st minute.
His surging run from just inside the United half saw him glide past three Reading players before releasing the ball to Rooney.
The England striker hit the ball into the ground on the edge of the Reading penalty area and it took a wicked defelction off defender Alex Pearce before looping beyond goalkeeper Stuart Taylor and into the roof of the net.
Ashley Young had two half chances before the goal, while Danny Welbeck, Rooney and Robin van Persie all found Taylor with long-range shots.
Reading came close when Hal Robson-Kanu’s 25-yard drive fizzed inches wide of a post.
The visitors also had strong claims for a penalty turned down two minutes after the interval.
Nicky Shorey’s corner was only partially cleared by the United defence and Nemanja Vidic looked to bundle over Reading’s Adrian Mariappa in the penalty area. But referee Lee Probert waved play on.
The Reds had a series of chances in the last half hour, but only two caused Reading real problems.
Van Persie’s powerful 25-yard free kick in the 64th minute produced a fine save from Taylor, who also did well to turn behind a pointblank effort by Ryan Giggs 20 minutes later.
But United kept Reading at bay and the three points won proved the only important statistic.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “It was not a good performance, but where we are now is not down to today – it is down to the way we have played over the previous six months.
“Reading are fighting for their lives at the bottom and we expected a difficult game, but they did not create many chances.”
Ferguson confirmed that Ferdinand would be joining up with the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers in San Marino and Montenegro.
“Rio will be joining up with the England squad along with the other six players. He has great ability on the ball and can get forward well into midfield, but there was an element of luck about the goal,” said Ferguson.
He added: “We have a big squad and we need to use it. We have most of our players away on international duty. When they come back, we have two away games in three days – at Sunderland in the league and Chelsea in the FA Cup.”
Man Utd 1, Reading 0