Manchester United know to avoid another sluggish start against Manchester City after Reading scare

Reading 3 Manchester United 4

The Madejski Stadium

Go behind, fight back vigorously, go on to win. Time and again. It is not a trait Sir Alex Ferguson readily embraces but, for the moment, he will take it. After all, Manchester United's repetitive manner of victory this season has taken them three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

It is little short of phenomenal. In seven matches, United have recovered from losing positions to emerge triumphant. Not to mention three times also in the Champions League. Yet the law of averages decrees it cannot continue and the law of sod says they will finally come a cropper when they take on Manchester City on Sunday.

Should City, United's nearest challengers in the title race, gain a lead at the Etihad Stadium, they will surely not be as generous as Reading were, twice, at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday. And as Fulham, Southampton, Liverpool, Stoke City, Aston Villa and Queen's Park Rangers were before them.

Darren Fletcher can see the warning signs. "We just can't keep conceding goals," the United midfielder said. "We're concerned about it, we don't want it to happen, it's just individual mistakes, particularly at set-pieces.

"But we keep responding, we keep coming back, and that's a good attribute to have. Going against teams like City, they will definitely punish any slack defending, so we're going to have to be on top of our game.

"But, sometimes, you can really focus on the bigger matches and make sure it doesn't happen."

City did the double over United last season, winning 6-1 at Old Trafford and 1-0 at the Etihad on their way to securing the league crown on goal difference from their great rivals.

"The derbies were a major factor in that," Fletcher said. "So we don't want to give City any advantage by them winning against us. I think it's about time we got a result against them."

United trailed 1-0 and 3-2 against Reading in a remarkable rat-a-tat opening period that equalled the Premier League scoring record for a first half. Hal Robson-Kanu initiated the mayhem and the goals flowed at regular intervals from Anderson, Wayne Rooney, from the penalty spot, Adam Le Fondre, Sean Morrison, Rooney and Robin van Persie.

Another effort from Van Persie, that crossed the goalline but was not spotted by the officials, didn't count and didn't matter as the second half petered out in a predictable anti-climax. United sat back, soaked up the sporadic pressure and sauntered back to the top of the table.

Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, did not know whether to laugh or cry but decided the best pick-me-up was a good book – "The Art Of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. "I'll probably read that tonight," he said.

For Ferguson, happiness would be a win over City without the need for any more come-from-behind heroics. "It's a massive game," he said.

Match facts



Goals: Reading Robson-Kanu 8, Le Fondre 19, Morr-ison 23. MU Anderson 13, Rooney 16 pen, 30, Van Persie 34. Subs: Read Pogrebnyak 5 (Roberts, 69), McCleary (McAnuff, 79), Hunt (Robson-Kanu, 83). MU Smalling 6 (Rafael, 31), Jones 5 (Anderson, 45), Welbeck (Van Persie, 74).

Bookings: Read Tabb. MU Rafael. Man of the match Rooney. Match rating 8/10. Poss: Read 49%. MU 51%. Att on target: Reading 7. Man United 5.

Referee M Halsey (Lancashire). Att 24,095.

Champions League: Eye on the opposition

CFR Cluj prepared for Wednesday's Group H trip to Manchester United with a 1-1 draw at Gaz Metan Medias. The visitors went ahead in the first-half on Saturday through Diogo Valente, before Azdren Lullaku levelled just before the hour. The hosts were reduced to 10 men late on when Zarko Markovic was dismissed. United have already won the group.

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