Date: 17th March 2013 at 2:22pm
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Reading put in a valiant effort, as they were beaten by Premier League leaders Manchester United by one goal to nil.

Caretaker boss Eamonn Dolan took the decision to revert to a five-man midfield for the game at Old Trafford, with Le Fondre dropped for the incoming Garath McCleary, while Hope Akpan dropped out of the side for Jem Karacan. It was a fairly slow start to the game, with United as expected, doing most of the early pressing, having known their Manchester rivals lost to Everton an hour before.

Reading were proving resilient to this pressure, but were to thank their luck 15 minutes in, as Ashley Young’s curling effort from the left just sailed wide of Stuart Taylor’s post. Despite coping with United’s strong attack for the opening exchanges, their resistance was broken five minutes later, as Ferdinand drove forward and found Wayne Rooney, whose shot from the edge of the area took a kind deflection off Alex Pearce and into the goal.

Instead of rolling over to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, the goal galvanised Eamonn Dolan’s side into a response. Robson-Kanu received the ball just outside the idea after a good burst inside from Garath McCleary and the Welsh international’s effort was inches wide of De Gea’s post. The Royals continued to push, as McCleary then found himself free in the area, but his deep cross for Hunt was too high for the forward.

The Red Devils had lost their flow that they had in the first half of the opening period, with credit going to a very well-organised Reading side for that. Despite going in at the half time break ahead, I doubt Sir Alex would have been very encouraged by a relatively lackluster performance from his side.

Did the Scotsman see a reaction from his side after the break? Not particularly, as Reading continued where they left off in the first half. In fact, we should have had a penalty in the opening minutes of the half, as Adrian Marriappa had appeared to have been shoved by the United captain Vidic. However, referee Lee Mason saw no wrong doing from the defender, despite replays proving otherwise.

Rather surprisingly, Stuart Taylor had a relatively quiet afternoon in the Reading goal, but had to be about his wits to palm out a 30-yard free kick from a quiet Robin Van Persie. The former Arsenal managed to have another bite of the cherry seconds later after receiving the ball in the box, but Mariappa sniffed him out. Chances were very few and far between at Old Trafford today.

Dolan decided to gamble with twenty minutes to go and throw on the attacking duo of Adam Le Fondre and Nick Blackman for Hal Robson-Kanu and the impressive Noel Hunt. This slightly more attacking outlook left the Royals open at times and Giggs almost took advantage of this, as he found a pocket of space in the box, but his shot was smothered well by the onrushing Stuart Taylor.

As they did in the similar fixture in the FA Cup last month, Reading put some late pressure on the United backline with a series of corners and the introduction of 6’5 defender Sean Morrison would not have made anything easier for United. However, United saw the game out to go 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League, while managerless Reading are still a tough 7 points from safety.

Vital Reading verdict: Everyone concerned with Reading FC can be proud with that performance, it was a brave effort in what is arguably our toughest game of the season on paper. Tactically we were spot on, with credit going to Eamonn Dolan for that. We kept the ball a lot better compared to previous games, definitely more positives from negatives to take from this game. Player ratings below.

Manchester United – 4-2-3-1: De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic (c), Buttner, Anderson, Giggs, Young, Welbeck, Rooney, van Persie
Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Valencia, Powell, Carrick, Kagawa, Hernandez

Reading – 4-4-1-1: Taylor, Kelly, Pearce, Mariappa, Shorey, McCleary, Karacan, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu, McAnuff, Hunt
Subs: McCarthy, Morrison, Gunter, Harte, Akpan, Blackman, Le Fondre

Player Ratings

Taylor 6
Did what was needed when called upon, couldn’t do an awful lot about the goal.

Kelly 7
Kept Ashley Young quiet for the majority of the game. Continues to impress constantly at right back.

Pearce 7
Solid as ever, very unlucky to have shot deflected off him for the goal.

Mariappa 7
Similarly to Kelly, seems to improve game by game. Superb touch and composure on the ball for a defender. Future captain possibly?

Shorey 7
Nicky justified his place in the team today ahead of Ian Harte with a solid performance. May have been a different story if he had been against Valencia, but his attacking intent and constant desire to cross the ball into the box is definitely a great sign.

Karacan 7
Similarly to Shorey, justified Dolan’s decision to drop Akpan for him. Worked tirelessly in the midfield as usual, getting himself about and harrying a strong United midfield.

Leigertwood 8
See man of the match.

McCleary 6
Did well in his unfavoured left-sided position. Would have liked to have seen a bit more directness to run at Smalling, but did well overall.

McAnuff 6
Similarly to Ledge has received a fair bit of stick in recent games, but did well in his central position. Caused more problems when he was moved over to the left side.

Robson-Kanu 7
Impressed in the reverse fixture and did in this game. HRK caused Buttner some problems down the right wing. Very unlucky not to score.

Hunt 7
Was surprised to see him play as a lone striker, but surprised me how well he did. Held it up superbly against two of the world’s best defender and worked his socks off during the game.