Reading 1 Manchester United 1: Ronaldo inspired by taunts to lift United

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The most pathetic sound in football is not Ashley Cole's whining but the booing which accompanies Cristiano Ronaldo's every touch. The occupants of the Madejski Stadium, most of whom will have never seen such a richly talented footballer in the flesh, proved as small-minded and xenophobic on Saturday evening as those supporters of Manchester United's other opponents this season.

Grow up. Even if it were true that Ronaldo prompted Wayne Rooney's dismissal in the World Cup, and Rooney's loss of control was a notably more significant factor, Rooney himself has no problem with Ronaldo. As he admitted in his book, he had himself already tried to get Ronaldo sent off in Gelsenkirchen. And if an appeal to supporters' better nature does not work Graeme Murty, the man who marked Ronaldo on Saturday, offered another reason not to boo. The Reading captain said: "My advice would be to leave him alone. You'll make him angry, and you don't want to make him angry."

Anecdotal evidence suggests Murty is right. Ronaldo proved in the World Cup, when he thrashed home the winning penalty against England and then was outstanding in the semi-final against France despite being booed throughout, that he does not lack for character. His worst game this season was against Arsenal last week, the one occasion he has not been constantly jeered by opposing fans. Being booed may help him focus.

With Ryan Giggs injured and Rooney still working his way back to form Ronaldo was United's most potent threat on Saturday. He still tends to over-elaborate and too often picks the wrong option (usually a shot), but he is just 21.

"He'd be on most managers' shopping lists given the chance and I fully understand why Alex [Ferguson] wanted to keep him," said Steve Coppell, Reading's astute manager. "He's a terrific player who will be as good as he wants to be. As well as his pace and ability on the ground he's good in the air. He's six-foot plus and 13 stone."

"He's a brute," added Murty. "It can be like running into a brick wall. I think playing in the Premier League has been the making of him because we don't stand for people diving. He's had to become physically stronger because refs don't give as many free-kicks. He's got all the attributes. He can go both ways, flick it over your head and nutmeg you. The lads were saying 'you've got to try to get close to him' but you can't because his feet are that quick that if you go close he'll just lay it off and then go in behind because he's rapid as well. You've just got to dig in and do your best, and hope that your team-mates can help you out a little bit."

Ronaldo's goal came on one of the few occasions Murty was left isolated. The Portuguese ran at him, turned him, came inside and shot low into the far corner. The boos were satisfyingly stilled but Ronaldo resisted the temptation to return the taunts.

United's players had also been a model of restraint when Peter Walton harshly judged Gary Neville, whose view of Murty's incoming cross was obscured by Kevin Doyle, to have committed handball when the ball reared up at him. Doyle, a boyhood United fan, converted.

If Reading deserved to score for their organisation and endeavour United's territorial dominance and pressure was certainly worth a point. Had Walton seen Stephen Hunt trip Rooney in the box four minutes from time they would have had all three.

At the end Reading and their fans were jubilant, United's reached for their mobiles to complain to 6-0-6. Which, given Reading have not lost at home in 31 matches dating back more than a year, says everything about the gulf in expectation between the Premiership élite and the rest.

Goals: Doyle (pen 48) 1-0; Ronaldo (73) 1-1.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty (Bikey, 89), Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Ki-Hyeon (Hunt, 85), Sidwell, Harper, Convey; Lita (Gunnarsson, 76), Doyle. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Long.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar; Neville, Vidic, Ferdinand, Heinze (O'Shea, 70); Fletcher (Solskjaer, 70), Carrick, Richardson (Saha, 58), Ronaldo; Scholes; Rooney. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Brown.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Attendance: 24,098.

Man of the match: Ronaldo.

Comments