The day Manchester United come to town is always a big one for newly promoted clubs and Reading enjoyed every minute of it bar the one in which the irrepressible Cristiano Ronaldo equalised a goal by local hero Kevin Doyle from the penalty spot. Doyle, like many Irishmen was a childhood United supporter, scored just after half-time when Gary Neville handled, but United's attacking brio before and after deserved a point.
One was insufficient to take them back to the top of the table and there were flaws in their performance that Steve Coppell's boys, last beaten at home 13 months ago, exposed.
It was the first-ever League meeting between the teams, in itself a mark of how far Reading have progressed. On United's last visit, for an FA Cup tie 10 years ago, Ryan Giggs was among the scorers but the hamstring injury sustained against Celtic recently kept him out. So Paul Scholes, composed and combative at the same time, played just behind Wayne Rooney, with Kieran Richardson given a rare start out on the left.
There were changes in defence, with Gabriel Heinze and Nemanja Vidic both starting for the first time this season - the Argentine left-back had not played for his club since damaging knee ligaments in the Champions' League a year ago. Rusty or not, he found Reading's winger Seol Ki-Hyeon a handful as the home team went at their distinguished opponents with scant regard for reputation.
The visitors, as is their wont, did not hold back either, so it was full-blooded entertainment, with a dozen worthy attempts on goal in the first half alone. Cristiano Ronaldo, abused throughout as he now expects, had a good proportion of United's. Having hit more shots than any other Premiership player this season is clearly a record he is proud of, though team-mates seemed to imply they might occasionally have preferred a pass.
Ronaldo's best effort before the interval came from a free-kick that he had earned himself, he drove a fierce low shot that Marcus Hahnemann could only parry. The goalkeeper had the same problem as early as the second minute with a shot by the otherwise subdued Wayne Rooney, Graeme Murty coming to the rescue by beating Richardson to the rebound. Later Scholes needed only a touch to score from Ronaldo's centre but could not quite get there.
Reading had their moments and fully deserved the standing ovation afforded them at half-time. Leroy Lita twice caused problems by turning cleverly away from his marker. In the first incident, from Murty's throw-in, his shot took a slight deflection that carried it even closer to Edwin van der Sar's goal. Soon afterwards, from the other flank, he turned Rio Ferdinand and sent a dangerous ball across the six-yard box. Best of all for the raucous home crowd was the break led by Bobby Convey, in which a touch off a defender meant Kevin Doyle was left onside six yards out. Van der Sar managed to block.
Two minutes into the second half the pair were face-to-face again, this time with the ball on the penalty spot. Gary Neville had been caught out by a cross from Murty and, possibly unsighted by Doyle, was adjudged to have handled. Van der Sar played for time by taking a drink from his water bottle and though he got a hand to Doyle's low kick, could not keep it out.
Desperate remedies were required so Louis Saha, not fit enough to start the game, was summoned to join it for the last half-hour as support for an increasingly frustrated Rooney, who was looking like a yellow card waiting to happen. Ronaldo moved to the left flank and Darren Fletcher to the right, the pair combining to threaten an equaliser in the 70th minute. Hahnemann and Ibrahima Sonko recklessly left cross to each other and Ronaldo turned it inside for Scholes who had his goal-bound shot deflected.
Seven minutes later, after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and John O'Shea had appeared as substitutes for Fletcher and Heinze, United did draw level. Ronaldo took all the credit, collecting a pass right on the touchline and bemusing Murty as he veered inside him to shoot low into the far corner of the net. O'Shea might have scored soon afterwards, coming forward to meet Michael Carrick's corner for a header blocked almost on the line. But the home side held out, to another prolonged and well merited ovation.Reuse content