Match Report: Comeback kings Manchester United rise from the madness

Reading 3 Manchester United 4

Madejski Stadium

Manchester City took over at the head of the Premier League, on goal difference from Manchester United, but it was only a temporary loan from their bitter rivals. United, after an astonishing seven-goal first half against Reading at Madejski Stadium last night, clung on to victory and went back to the top.

After the pyrotechnics of the opening 45 minutes - in which both defences were little short of a shambles, though it made for fascinating viewing - United showed some semblance of sanity after the break. With the City-United derby coming up next Sunday, it is that resilience which they will need to exhibit at the Etihad Stadium, not the punch-drunk antics of earlier.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, has perhaps seen everything in his 26 years at the United helm but even he admitted to a tinge of amazement at the initial exchanges. "I thought it would end up being a record score for the Premier League," he said. "It was really bad defending, probably our worst of the season. We need to sort that out.

"If we kept making mistakes at the back, then we were going to have to be rescued by the forwards. And we were. It was a real rescue job, a real cliff-hanger. The way we were defending, I thought it would be a miracle if we won. In the end, though, we showed a great response and really battled back."

At times, the first half beggared belief as the teams traded goals in breathaking fashion, the magnificent seven equalling the Premier League scoring record for the first period. For the opening nine minutes, not much happened ... then, in an inexplicable explosion of slack defending and precision finishing, the match went mad.

Reading went ahead when Hal Robson-Kanu crashed in a left-footed shot after a poor clearance from Jonny Evans. It was the 14th game, out of 22, in which United had gone behind this season. Four minutes later, United were level when Anderson hammered home at the near post via the no doubt stinging fingertips of Adam Federici, the Reading goalkeeper.

Three minutes on, United were ahead. Jay Tabb rashly bundled over Evans in the area and Wayne Rooney, initially operating on the right wing, slotted in his fourth goal of the season from the spot. Four more minutes and it was 2-2, Adam Le Fondre nodding in Nicky Shorey's corner.

United's defensive shortcomings were exposed again soon after, when Sean Morrison thundered in another header from another Shorey corner. Only 23 minutes had passed; it was the earliest United had conceded three goals in the Premier League. Yet the mayhem had not finished.

Reading's rearguard was similarly shell-shocked, with United drawing level when Patrice Evra crossed from the left and Rooney was left with time and space to guide in the sixth goal. Ferguson had had enough of the carnage and replaced Rafael with Chris Smalling at right back. As a disgruntled Rafael left the pitch, he shunned the use of a coat, which on a bitterly cold night was rather foolish.

"What reaction?" Ferguson said, when asked about Rafael's response. "It was nothing. Rafael has had a very good season and he was just disappointed at having to come off. Bringing on Chris made a big difference, especially with his height and our defending at set-pieces.

Would, perhaps, the teams take a breather? No way, there was still time for one more. And United should have had two. Rooney set up Robin van Persie to tuck in his 13th goal of the season and the Dutchman was denied a second when, after Federici had saved superbly from Smalling, Adrian Mariappa appeared to block van Persie's follow-up attempt on the goalline. Yet television replays showed that it had crossed the line.

"It was end-to-end a bit," Rooney obeserved. "A bit like a basketball match. I should think that for our watching coaches and fans it was agonising and we just had to dig in. We kept showing great character to get back in it and were much more solid in the second half. we're three points clear now and that's the most important thing."

Not since the Blackburn Rovers-Leeds United and Derby County-Bradford City goalfests in 1997 had the Premier League witnessed such first-half drama. It couldn't continue after the break - surely? - and it didn't. United seemed to settle for what they had got and although Reading controlled much of the play, they lacked their early penetration.

United could have made it safe, when Federici fumbled Mariappa's backpass, but van Persie missed the gaping net as Federici scrambled on all fours. "I don't really know what to say about that first half," Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, said. "It was just amazing.

"Some of our football was terrific, the way we passed the ball, and I thought that we might go on and win. I'm standing in the technical area next to Sir Alex, we're playing Manchester United and we're leading them 3-2. That shows how far we've come over the past few years."

Reading took many plaudits in defeat but it was the "Comeback Kings" who had done it again, recovering from a deficit to win for the tenth time in 22 matches in all competitions this season. With resilience like that, regaining their title from City should prove easily within their compass. Sunday should provide a big pointer. 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas