MAN UTD 3, READING 1
Quite how Casemiro was not named man-of-the-match was a cause for consternation as Manchester United beat Championship club Reading to move into the last 16 of the Emirates FA Cup.
The midfielder scored the Reds’ opening two goals and produced another imperious display yet it was Brazilian team-mate Antony who landed the award.
It was a night of Brazilian magic as Fred also found the net with United captain Harry Maguire praising Casemiro’s contribution and impact on the team as there was no happy return to Old Trafford for ex-player Paul Ince.Embed from Getty Images
Maguire said: “He’s done what he was brought in to do. He’s a phenomenal player. You don’t win what he’s won without being a top player.
“He’s improved the team, the morale and the performance.”
The strength of United’s team also underlined how serious manager Erik ten Hag is taking the cup.
Whereas other Premier League managers have fielded shadow sides which devalue the world’s most prestigious knockout, the Dutchman made only one change from the side which won at Nottingham Forest three days earlier in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
Ten Hag added: “We know he’s a great player. In Madrid’s midfield with Kroos and Modric it was great.
“I think he’s capable, you see offensively he enjoys it. What I like is dynamic football with variations, many position switches.”
There was also praise for Antony as ten Hag said: “I think he’s growing. We want him to be more dynamic, variable and direct. Today was a lovely pass for the first goal.
“We are happy with his improvement in this moment. There’s big potential in him and he has to develop it every day.”
And of the South Americans playing on a wet and miserable January night, ten Hag joked it was no Copacabana.
Reflecting on the game, ten Hag said: “The first 60 minutes was really good. We totally dominated. We were composed with good moments.
“In the first half, we had some good opportunities. I don’t know why the [Marcus Rashford] goal was disallowed.
“We are here for trophies, but we have a long way to go. We’re building.”
Ince said: “I’m very proud of the players. As a player here for six years, I know how tough it is to come here and play in front of their fans in full song. It was great to score a goal.
“It was about making our fans proud. We thought they were going to play a weakened side. When we saw their team, we thought oh oh. We should have scored in the first half.
“At times we were probably better with 10 men when we released the shackles. We gave the fans something not to be embarrassed of.
“When you come to Old Trafford you want to play against the best players. The fact ten Hag played his best eleven shows the respect he has for me, the club and the players.
“They’ve held their own against a very good Manchester United side.
Ince was pleased to see the rejuvenation of his former team, saying: “Under ten Hag in the short time he has been here, he has lifted the club.
“There was a disparity between the fans and the club and he has bridged that gap, and the fans are buying into it.
“They are getting a presence back like they had in Fergie’s days. It may take two or three years. They are not quite there, but the club is in a position to take it forward.”
Ten Hag’s one change to the side that started their 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup last Wednesday as Harry Maguire came in for Lisandro Martinez in defence.
Reading had two from the side that lost 4-0 against Stoke in the Championship last weekend with Andy Carroll and Lucas Joao replacing Yakou Meite and Tyrese Fornah.
United had early chances to take the lead as Christian Eriksen fired a free kick narrowly wide and Rashford’s dead ball was beaten out by goalkeeper Joe Lumley with Eriksen’s follow-up effort blocked.
Antony then bent another effort just wide and it looked only a matter of time before they found the net.
Bruno Fernandes was off target with a couple of shots as the opening goal continued to elude the Reds.
United thought they had taken the lead after 35 minutes, but Rashford’s record breaking header was ruled out by VAR after Wout Weghorst had strayed marginally offside in the build-up.
Rashford had been seeking to become the first United player ever to score in 10 consecutive matches at Old Trafford having equalled Dennis Violett’s nine in the derby victory.
United had 79 per cent possession in the opening period yet Reading almost snatched an unlikely lead in stoppage time with only their second goal attempt of the game.
Junior Hoillett found himself free in front of goal but David De Gea made a huge block, his only save of the first 45 minutes.
The breakthrough came 10 minutes into the second half following a piece of Brazilian magic.
Anton threaded a delightful through ball to Casemiro who timed his run from deep to perfection as he took the ball in his stride before dinking the ball over advancing goalkeeper Joe Lumley.
Eriksen was replaced moments later by Fred having been injured by a two-footed challenge by Andy Carroll.
And Fred provided the assist little over one minute after coming on for Casemiro to bend a shot from 30 yards into the bottom corner, his second of the game as he doubled his total for the Reds in four minutes.
Again it was Brazilian magic with Fred this time playing a pivotal role in the goal.
Carroll was sent off after picking two bookings in five minutes, the second sliding in on Casemiro. He had been lucky to escape punishment for his challenge which ended Eriksen’s night.
The Reds added a third goal in 14 minutes when Fred found the net with a cheeky back-heel at the near post to convert a cross from Fernandes.
United made a double change immediately when Rashford and Fernandes were replaced by Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri.
Reading’s 10 men reduced the deficit with 18 minutes left when substitute Amadou Mbengue headed home from six yards following Tom Ince’s corner.
United made their final two changes in the 73rd minute when Casemiro and Weghorst were replaced by Anthony Elanga and Kobbie Mainoo.