Sir Alex Ferguson may have been eclipsed by his nemesis-of-old, King Kev in the competition for column inches and TV footage this week, but where it really matters, on the pitch, the new Newcastle manager willdiscover that nothing much has changed in his absence.
This may not have been the most convincing exhibition by the champions who found the Royals resolute opponents, but again it demonstrated their capacity to deliver when other teams would have conceded it was simply not their day.
It looked as if Reading, by dint of fine goalkeeping from Marcus Hahnemann and United's profligacy, just about had the measure of the League leaders. Then a precisely-angled delivery from Carlos Tevez and a brilliantly instinctive piece of finishing from Wayne Rooney in front of the watching England manager Fabio Capello, brought about the breakthrough. Cristiano Ronaldo's added-time second confirmed the three points. Neither that, or the scoreline, could conceal some woefully awry marksmanship.
As Ferguson conceded: "By the end, we were quite happy to get through it. We kept making chances but you do start to worry when the game goes on and you haven't scored. You worry whether you're going to get the goal, and it took a lovely flick from Wayne to get us in front. Credit to Reading they kept going at us. When I saw their line-up I knew they were going gung-ho. They really do make you work."
Reading have certainly proved the awkward squad where United are concerned. In the corresponding fixture they had forced a goalless draw at Old Trafford in the first game of this season with a steadfast rearguard action. With that in mind, it may have been surmised that the Reading manager would seek to contain. You could not have been more wrong. Steve Coppell started with three attackers, Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson and Leroy Lita.
Though Doyle tended to do most of his work down the right-side of midfield, it demonstrated the Reading manager's positive approach. As Coppell said: "We thought 'What have we got to lose, let's go for it' and for 70 minutes we gave as good as we got."
Coppell is experiencing one of his most problematic phases since becoming Reading manager. His team are in the midst of a poor run, they face Chelsea away next, and his best players, including Doyle, and Stephen Hunt, are attracting interest from more fashionable clubs. But with Kalifa Cissé, a midfielder converted to central defender here, and Ivar Ingimarsson thwarting Tevez and Rooney, the Royals enjoyed a splendid first half. United lacked their usual edge around goal, and their best chance arrived just before the half hour when Owen Hargreaves' free-kick was magnificently saved by Hahnemann, who earlier had denied Tevez. At the other end, Kitson nearly caught out Edwin van der Sar when he let fly from 40yards after the goalkeeper had dashed out of goal and made a hash of his clearance. The covering Rio Ferdinand spared the Dutchman's embarrassment.
After the break, Ryan Giggs replaced Park Ji-sung, and his first corner nearly resulted in a goal. Hahnemann punched his clearance into the back of Kitson and, as the ball rebounded back, Cissé reacted superbly to clear with an overhead kick off the line. It was a half in which United probed ever-deeper into home territory. Even Ferdinand joined the attack, and one low cross from the England man resulted in Ronaldo ballooning the ball over. Ferdinand was cautioned, along with Reading's Convey after reacting to a challenge and kicking out at the American.
Though Hahnemann was forced to make one save from Rooney, United failed to profit from their possession. It all served to offer Reading hope. Indeed Kitson came close to scoring for Reading with an attempted lob in a one-against-one with Van der Sar, but failed to clear the towering Dutchman. Finally Rooney defected home Tevez's pass, and Michael Carrick nearly made it two before Hahnemann thwarted Ronaldo.
In the final minute James Harper burst through and was narrowly wide. Ronaldo added a second on the break. In truth, that was more than he, and United, merited. But on such days are championships won.Reuse content