Manchester United booked their place in the sixth round of the FA Cup after a nervy 2-1 victory over Reading at Old Trafford
So Manchester United are through to the sixth round of the FA Cup, where they will face either Middlesbrough or Chelsea, but this was anything than the stroll many (including myself) expected. The hosts started brilliantly and could have been 2-0 up in the opening few minutes, but Reading refused to be cowed and got back into the match thanks to some aggressive pressing and accurate passing.
That pattern continued into the second-half but having brought Robin Van Persie off the bench, United eventually took full control and it did not come as a surprise when Nani, another United substitute, gave them the lead with a neat close-range finish on 69 minutes. The same player then provided the cross for Javier Hernandez to make it 2-0 three minutes later.
That should have been that but Reading, who looked dead on their feet, someone managed to get a goal back through Jobi McAnuff's close-range strike and they suddenly found the energy to push for an equaliser. United hit them on the break and had chances to make it 3-1, but ultimately this game ended as a tight affair. United go through but well done to Reading for showing a decent amount of ambition and skill. I almost had to eat my horse.
That's it from me then. Thanks for all the emails and apologies I couldn't get through them all.
Peep! Peep! All over at Old Trafford.
90min Oh that looked like the equaliser as Shorey swung a deep cross into the six-yard area. Karacan flicked it on towards Le Fondre but someone in red was able to clear. United then go up the pitch again and, through Hernandez, force Federici into a save. Cracking finish this.
90min Reading are now launching some tasty long throws into the area which Vidic is clearing all on his own. As he plays the hero, Nani decides to play the fool and gives away a free-kick just outside the United area. Federici is up for it...
90min Great to see ESPN agree with me and have made Nani man of the match.
90min Speaking of which, there'll be four added minutes.
90min Another lovely pass from Van Persie puts Welbeck through but he is unable to get past Morrison. United win a corner which they keep in the corner. Hard to believe but the hosts are now looking to run the clock down.
88min "From a Portuguese perspective it's great to see Nani back with two crucial WC Qualifiers coming up next month," writes Ricardo Aguiar.
No doubt the man with the perm has played well tonight.
86min This is a sloppy finish from United, who from looking in total control are now giving away possession in dangerous area. That said, they are able to break and do so again as Van Persie plays a lovely pass to Hernandez. His shot is saved by Federici and Nani's subsequent rebound goes just wide of the near post.
84min Reading are forcing United back but suddenly the hosts break forward through the impressive Nani, who sprays the ball out left to Welbeck. He runs towards goal and looks set to hit a drive towards goal before getting into a mess and slamming the ball against his standing foot. It plops out for a goalkick.
83min Carrick is on for Anderson.
81min That goal came from absolutely nowhere. Reading looked out of puff but suddenly a low cross was played into the area towards Le Fondre which Smalling only half-cleared and as his fellow defenders got themselves into a mess, McAnuff was able to pounce and thrash a drive past De Gea from close range.
Well blow me down with a feather, we could have a comeback here
79min Have to say that Nani has been excellent tonight. He only came on due to Phil Jones's first-half injury but has been impressive since, pushing Reading back with his runs and firing some high-quality shots at goal, one of which lead to the first goal. He's man of the match barring a late Le Fondere hattrick.
76min Van Persie is making a difference here with his touch and hold up play. Reading look dead on their feet and I can definitely see United getting a third goal. Meanwhile Hal Robson-Kanu has come on for McCleary.
"On second thoughts, perhaps Bond would be an Arsenal supporter," muses Justin Kavanagh. "A long line of young talent always passing through his manor, but ultimately under the thumb of Miss Moneypenny."
Now that is class.
72min Nani was involved again, slinging in a cross from the right wing that Hernandez charged towards and headed past Federici at his near post. A shame for Reading who have played well here but, as expected, United have punished them by simply stepping up a couple of gears. They're as good as through.
Game over now as Hernandez scores his third goal of the season.
69min The breakthrough ultimately was not a surprise as United got well and truly on top of Reading. Valencia, moving in from the right wing, played a square pass to Nani who took a touch with his left foot before poking the ball past Federici with his right.
And Nani has finally got the goal his performance has deserved.
67min The United onslaught is back as Reading are forced further and further back towards their own goal. Shorey has just had to hack away a Valencia cross and while the resulting corner was cleared, United are simply coming back for more.
67min Apologies for not pointing out that at the same time Van Persie came on for Young, Danny Guthrie came on for Leigertwood. Will the United fans remember to boo him for being a former Liverpool player? We shall see.
65min Sod RVP, Nani looks the most likely man in red to score tonight. He goes close again with a curling shot that goes just wide of the far post.
64min Looks like Van Persie will play off Hernandez with Welbeck taking Young's place on the left-wing.
63min Ooh, Nani pokes the ball just wide after Reading had failed to clear a United corner. The men in blue and white catch their breath and then have to sharply intake some more as they see Van Persie coming on for Young.
"Between your confidence and Brian Kitt's dismissal of any teams that aren't massive, the Karma Police are surely lining up a Reading win with an 87th minute scuffed Le Fondre goal," predicts Matt Dony. "Not that I hold Brian Kitt personally responsible, he's become a sort of composite representation of all United fans with a sense of entitlement. And that's a lot of people."
59min Vidic's header from a Young corner is blocked by Morrison and, after retaining possession, Reading finally move up the pitch. Karacan, and Leigertwood, who has both been neat in possession through this contest, get the ball forward and McCleary has a shot from just inside the area that is blocked. Going up the other end of pitch, Anderson then forces Federici into another save. This game is opening up again
"James Bond isn't a Cardiff, Norwich, Newcastle, Palace or Swindon fan, but a Halifax Town fan," writes Ben Smith. "Shaymen, not birds. I'll get my coat."
54min We have the first booking of the match and it's gone to old staple head Noel Hunt for a lunge on Smalling. There still seems to be blood coming out of his head...
52min Reading are being well and truly pinned back here as United now become the team doing most of the pressing. The men in red are moving the ball quickly and with purpose.
49min United well on top here and Cleverley has just had a shot from inside the area blocked by a Reading defender. The pressure continues and Federici is forced into saving Nani's long-range strike. To be fair, it was from about 700 miles out.
48min Both teams are unchanged and, as was the case in the first-half, United have started on top. Their tempo is definitely better than it was for large parts prior the break and the question now is whether they can take any chances that come their way.
45min Reading kick-off the second-half and we've just had the news that crack striker Noel Hunt has had six staples put in the back of his head following that early clash with Nemanja Vidic. Yes, that's right, staples. What a hard nut he is.
In response to Brain Kitt's earlier email, Ben Gaunt says this: "I'd normally agree with Brian, however we've not won the FA Cup in so long now... I'd quite like an easy run!:
While Steve Fenton says this: "Tell Brian Kitt I do hope the rest of us can find a team worthy of giving United a game. P.S. why does 'chicarito' keep falling over?"
Apologies for not posting all the emails that have come my way this evening. On the James Bond front, there's been a range of suggestions for who 007 may support. We've had Rangers, Liverpool, Grimsby and, most gloriously of all, Roma. Kevin Porter has chipped in with this belter: "Mr Bond's interest in continental football would surely lie in the Ukraine rather than Norway - he no doubt prefers things Shakhtor than Start."
Bravo sir, bravo.
Well that's a surprise isn't it? To be fair, United have had enough chances to score, primarily during a breathless first few minutes when they laid siege to Reading's goal and created more than decent chances through Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia. Ashley Young and, late on, Nani have also come close, but Adam Federici has been excellent in the Reading goal and further up the pitch his team-mates have pressed well and moved the ball even better. Much of the visitors' threat has come from corners, however, and I still get the sense that United will score here. A half-time rollicking from Sir Alex should do it.
45min Nani's on fire here. Minutes after his cracking volley, the winger forces Federici into a save after making firm contact with Valencia's square pass. United have a corner, which leads to nothing.
45min We're going to have four minutes of added time at the end of the first-half.
45min Nani hits the post! Oh that was a wonderful strike from the substitute, a first-time volley from the right-edge of the area that smashes the far post and came after Morrison had cleared Welbeck's right-wing cross towards the Portuguese.
44min And more pressure from Reading leads to David De Gea having to make a save from Le Fondre's long-range strike. Reading really have made a game of this through their quick and accurate passing through midfield.
42min Nani has come on for Jones, and it looks like Valencia will move to right-back. Meanwhile, Morrison has just pulled a shot wide of United's area after another spell of Reading pressure.
39min Problem for United as Phil Jones is forced to limp away from the pitch after taking a hard but fair challenge from McAnuff. He's played well at right-back. It looks like Nani is coming on, fair to say he's never played well at right-back.
38min The ESPN cameras have just caught a shot of Robin Van Persie yawning on the bench. How fantastically arrogant is that?! Bet he's sat there thinking: "Get me on Alec, I can f*cking murder this lot"
"As a Naval Commander, wouldn't James Bond be a fan of Grimsby Town?" asks Chris Brock.
Or Southampton, or Portsmouth, or ....
34min Smalling heads over from Anderson's looping corner. That came from another surge up the field from United, who when they step up the pace are getting through Reading quite easily, primarily because Reading are pressing quickly and therefore leaving gaps for the hosts to exploit. It's a brave tactic, for sure.
Check out this chin-scratcher from Brian Kitt: "One measure of the increasing power of the 'big' teams in the Premiership and the related decline of the FA Cup is that, as a United fan, there was a time not long ago when an FA Cup draw would be met with trepidation for fear of landing a tough draw, whereas now, (am I alone?) in watching a draw hoping to land a Chelsea or Liverpool to make it interesting."
Oh this could be the best "who does James Bond support?" shout of the night from Justin Kavanagh: "Surely 007 is a Roma supporter? Always armed and dangerous, and with a fondness for Totti."
27min This game is surprisingly even, although United have already had enough chances to have taken the lead, and really should have. Reading are using the ball well, though, and a deep cross from Jobi McAnuff just now forced Buttner into giving away a corner which United again struggled to clear. You sense that if Reading are to score it will come from a set-piece
"The James Bond character was based on swashbuckling aristo Count Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart de la Lanne Mirrlees who latterly resided on a croft on Great Bernera - part of the isle of Lewis - until his death aged 87 in 2012," writes Peter Edwards. "As the Ooter Hebs don't really have a footie team and given that the populus is predominantly Protestant, then Lord Dunne would probably be accurate in suggesting James Bond would be a GGR supporter."
Well that's cleared that up then.
22min Oh that's a great save! Federici springs down low to his right to push Young's shot away for a corner having initially saved a long-range effort from Cleverly. The corner comes to nothing but United are back on top now. Meanwhile Hunt is on his third shirt of the night after that earlier cut.
"Have you seen Michu run?" asks Gary Naylor. "I reckon he's been on the lasagnes. And God only knows what Gareth Bale's been eating."
Bale's clearly been on the leopards.
17min And yet more great defending from Vidic as the United captain heads Shorey's free-kick away from danger inside the six yard area as Morrison looked to steam in for a header that would have surely led to a goal. Brian McDermott's men are making a game of this, someone get my horse.
16min It sounds like a pretty subdued atmosphere at Old Trafford and no doubt the home crowd are simply waiting for the men in red/white/black to score, but fair play to Reading who after an early scare are definitely in this match now, pressing United high up the pitch before passing the ball intelligently in midfield.
Back to the emails and Fred Sullivan has made this bold claim:"Everyone knows that James Bond supports Liverpool, though the fortunes of everyone’s favourite super-spy and the Reds seem to be at polar opposites through the decades. 007 was superb in the 60s, distinctly tired and ropey in the 70s and 80s, before an all-conquering recent revival."
Liverpool won the league and FA Cup under Bill Shankly during the 1960s, but otherwise a nice observation that Fred.
11min United back on the attack and Federici is forced to make a save as Tom Cleverley whips in an excellent cross towards Javier Hernandez. Back at the other end of the pitch Vidic and Noel Hunt are receiving treatment for cuts after a clash of heads. Both are bloodied. Nice.
10min United struggle to clear Nicky Shorey's in-swinging corner and Reading continue to put pressure on the United defence, but the danger eventually passes as Garath McCleary's cross is blocked back off him by Alexander Buttner for a United goalkick.
9min What's this, a Reading corner. Fair play to the visitors, who have sustained pressure in the United half and forced Chris Smalling into making a tackle as Adam Le Fondre looked to drive towards goal.
7min Reading have finally got the ball and have finally moved into United's half, but are unable to find a way through the home defence, and specifically Nemanja Vidic who is literally moving across the area in order to cut out any danger.
3min More pressure from United and another drive from Welbeck, this time from a tight angle on the left edge of the six yard area following Ashley Young's perfectly waited through pass. Adam Federici is able to save at his near post, but make no mistake: this is an onslaught so far.
2min Well this looks ominous for Reading. United have had all the ball since kick-off and after a typically slick move up the field they should have taken the lead, first through Danny Welbeck's low drive from just inside the area and then from a header from Antonio Valencia that lacked power and direction.
1min Peep peep! And we're off. United kick-off and are defending the Stretford End in the first half.
"Being an Arsenal fan I'd love to see you eat your horse," writes Anna Rutgersson.
You're on Gooner!
Robbie Borowczyk has questioned my vow to eat a horse should Reading win this match. "Do you own a horse to be consumed if Utd win this one?" Robbie asks, "and, if not will you agree to consume an equivalent weight in Findus lasagne instead?"
Given I consume three Findus lasagnes a week, and seven during Christmas, that would be no bother my friend.
"Simon "Da Man" MacMahon has a point," writes the Lord Dunne. "Skyfall came out on DVD/Blu-Ray today - would you not rather MBM that? I'd follow it! Wonder what team James Bond supports actually. Skyfall suggests that Bond is Scottish (originally) and has a love of the Union. Surely then the Glorious Glasgow Rangers would be the logical choice! Although Bond's pretty posh, so maybe he just fannies about with cricket and rugby."
I reckon James Bond supports Queen of the South (work it out).
"Did the interviewer on ESPN, just call him Sir Al?!?!" asks Sean Ryan as United's manager is asked for his pre-match views. I'll be honest Sean, I wasn't listening to that bit, but should the reporter in question receive a banning order from Old Trafford in the next few days, we can all presume that he did.
ESPN have just put up a graphic comparing this current United side to the one which won the treble in 1999. Christ, seeing "Irwin", "Stam", "Yorke" and "Cole" together on the telly again has taken me right back. Sod this MBM, I'm off to revise for my A-levels.
Ryan Dunne is here! And, as is typical of the MBM veteran, he's pinged across a belting email: "Hawrite Sachin! Really great introduction. Actually, although I know that most clubs can't aspire to the vast worldwide fanbase and domestic success of my team, the Glorious Glasgow Rangers, perhaps Reading could do more to increase their fanbase, as they have the perfect name for those footballers-promote-literacy initiatives in Schools. Not sure if they have any players who could beat Darren Mackie's infamously peerless contribution to the field though: http://www.meldrum-pri.aberdeenshire.sch.uk/page47.html
"Though I'm a Manchester United supporter, I wouldn't be as confident as you are Sachin that United will definitely see it through today," writes Venkata Subramanian, "I guess the team will still be suffering from the hangover of their epic defensive performance at Real Madrid and, at the same time, Reading will be looking for a chance to go to Wembley, and end the season on a high. And Middlesbrough at home will be all pumped up for the clash against Chelsea. Wouldn't it be worth suggesting people punt on a Reading v Middlesbrough in the next round?"
Peter Littley has us bang to rights: "Looking at the teams, It's going to be hard for Rooney and Le Fondre to square up tonight... Rooney isn't included, time to change the photo caption."
I'll get the Guardian gremlins on it mate.
"Evening Sachin," writes Simon McMahon. "The magic of the cup, eh? Romance, upsets, David versus Goliath, you're really selling this one. But of course you're right, there's about as much chance of Reading winning tonight as there is of the Pope resigning."
Hmmm...not sure what to make of that one.
...Sir Alex Ferguson has shuffled his pack for this one, making seven changes to the side which drew 1-1 with Real Madrid last week. It's still a decent side, though, with Javier Hernandez, who scored twice in United's 4-1 victory over Fulham in the fourth-round, back in attack.
Brian McDermott has also changed things around, making six changes to the team that lost 2-1 at Stoke in Reading's last match. Adam Le Fondre is among those who start, and he my friends knows how to hit the back of the net.
Man Utd: De Gea, Smalling, Jones, Vidic, Buttner, Valencia,
Cleverley, Anderson, Young, Welbeck, Hernandez. Subs:
Lindegaard, Ferdinand, Giggs, Carrick, Nani, van Persie, Kagawa.
Reading: Federici, Kelly, Mariappa, Morrison, Shorey, McCleary,
Leigertwood, Karacan, McAnuff, Hunt, Le Fondre. Subs: Andersen,
Gunter, Pearce, Pogrebnyak, Robson-Kanu, Guthrie, Carrico.
Ref: Andre Marriner
Good evening and welcome to Manchester United's second match in succession against a team whose first three letters are 'Rea'. Last week it was Real Madrid, at the Bernabéu, in the Champions League, tonight it's Reading, at Old Trafford, in the FA Cup. Strap yourselves in and prepare for another dose of epic drama.
Or maybe not, because lets face it, we all know how this one is going to pan out. Reading will run around for a bit, probably play quite well, and may even score. But when that final whistle peeps, United are going to be in the sixth-round of the FA Cup. I know it, you know, angry Arsene Wenger even knows it.
Before Reading supporters email in accusing me of disrespect, let me just point out that your team has won just one of their previous 18 competitive matches against United and none of their seven fixtures at Old Trafford. The hosts are also unbeaten in their last 15 games in all competitions and have won their last eight in a row at home. In other words, there is as much chance of Reading causing an upset as there is of beef turning up in a Findus lasagne.
Anyway, with United likely to rest a few players and Reading always decent value for a goal, we could still be in store for an entertaining, closer-than-expected game, perhaps even one as good as December's league meeting between these sides, which United won 4-3.
A reminder: the winner of this tie will face either Middlesbrough or Chelsea in the next round. If that ends up being Reading, I'll eat my horse.
Team news to come...
Sachin will be here from 7.30pm with live commentary on the FA Cup tie between Manchester United and Reading. In the meantime, why not read Jamie Jackon's preview.
Manchester United are flying as they welcome Reading to Old Trafford. A fine 1-1 draw at Real Madrid on Wednesday evening in the Champions League has given them an edge ahead of the return leg of the last-16 tie, and they also boast a 12-point lead over Manchester City in the Premier League. Sir Alex Ferguson's players have begun talking openly of emulating the 1999 treble winners and though firm favourites to knock Reading out of the FA Cup they will be wary of the visitors' ability to claw back results late on after falling behind.
• The last two times that United have beaten Fulham at Old Trafford in the FA Cup (as they did in the last round) they have gone on to win the competition (1999 and 2004)
• This is the third time in the past four years that Reading have reached the fifth round; buth only the eight occasion in their history
• The league game between these sides earlier this season saw seven goals scored in the opening 35 minutes
• United are unbeaten in their past 12 games with Reading in all competitions and have not lost to them in the FA Cup since January 1927
• Adam Le Fondre has scored seven goals in his last seven games for Reading in league and cup