Eric's turn to bear fruit

Reading 0 Manchester United 3 Giggs 36, Parker 56, Cantona 8 9 Attendance: 14,780
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The Independent Online
PARTLY inspired, thoroughly professional, Manchester United drew Reading's spirited sting then drew away in some style at Elm Park to reach the last 16 comfortably - the only team to have done so thus far.

It was ominous stuff from the club seeking a third consecutive Wembley final. After weathering the First Division side's first wind, they broke out to score through the livewire Ryan Giggs, consolidated their flowing second-half performance with Paul Parker's first goal for three years and gilded it with a deserved tap-in for Eric Cantona.

The only interruption to the flow came late in the game when a linesman, Jeff Pettit, had to have treatment after being struck above the left eye by a 10 pence coin thrown from a Reading section of the crowd, an incident that the referee, Jeff Winter, will report to the FA. During the delay, Cantona gently lobbed back another object, a banana, on to the terraces. It was all Reading got from him yesterday.

United's display was a blueprint for any Premiership side faced with a tricky away tie on a bare, bumpy surface, one still bearing traces of 20 tons of sand recently cleared. It was, however, comfortably playable, having been covered with plastic sheeting borrowed from Wembley.

With commendable appetite, Steve Bruce and Gary Neville resolute in their defence, United emphasised the difference between the two tiers - when mistakes were made, they profited; when chances arrived at crucial times, they were taken. "Reading are a footballing side," United's Alex Ferguson said, "but once we quelled their attack, we created plenty of opportunities ourselves." It was an apt summary.

Despite the pitch not being conducive to their own passing style, Reading began the game brightly and carved out the better openings, their 36-year- old joint player-manager, Mick Gooding, at the hub of them.

From his left-wing cross, Jimmy Quinn, also 36, also player-manager, profited from Gary Neville's weak header to send in a shot that Trevor Morley turned just wide, then Lee Nogan just failed to get on the end of a low cross by Gooding.

Gradually, though, United came to terms with the task and the conditions and Cantona, having given the ball away too easily in early exchanges, asserted himself as the game's stylishly dominant figure.

Lee Sharpe also found room and put Philip Neville in for a shot that Nicky Hammond saved well. From a similar chance not long after, United claimed a lead.

This time Sharpe robbed Michael Gilkes on the edge of the Reading area, danced past a challenge and got in a shot, that Hammond again kept out. Giggs, though, was on hand and slammed the ball home.

It was proper reward for Giggs, who worked tirelessly back on the right flank of his own defence and was a constant threat to Reading's. It was hard on Hammond, however. One of Reading's seven keepers used this season, he has recently recovered from chicken pox.

It was Reading who had had the spots knocked off them and United were never in trouble thereafter. Parker's goal came from an intended cross within a few minutes of his arrival as a substitute. The only surprise was that it took so long to addthe third.

The energetic Roy Keane drove just wide, Andy Cole shot across goal and Bruce tapped over from close range. Then Cantona showed how, rounding off a neat move that saw Nicky Butt pull the ball back on the left and Sharpe help it on. He made sure for United that, yes, they have no banana skins.