The last time I was at the Madejski stadium was in March 2007 for an FA Cup replay. That night was memorable for the fact that after six minutes, United were 3-0 in front. Reading came back in that match to end up losing 3-2 and thus secure the moral victory that smaller clubs claim when they closely lose a match to teams like United. I never thought I’d see a match at this ground which surpassed that game but tonight I did. That United conceded the first goal today is no surprise at all. United though did it in a different style today by actually going behind twice to the recover the lead and win the match.
Hal Robson-Kanu puts Reading in the lead on eight minutes
Under no pressure on 7 minutes, Jonny Evans headed a Jobi McAnuff cross straight into the path of Reading’s unmarked Welsh winger Robson-Kanu, who volleyed past a comically startled Anders Lindergaard. Five minutes later, Anderson played a brilliant one/two with Ashley Young to fire past Adam Federici on his near post. That goal was just as surprising for (a) Anderson shooting with such rare accuracy and (b) the mistake of Federici in the ease that he was beaten. There was a split second of silence from United fans at the other end of the ground who hadn’t grasped that the ball had gone in.
Anderson equalises for United on 11 minutes
Four minutes after United equalised, for reasons known only to himself, Jay Tabb fouled Jonny Evans right under the nose of referee Mark Halsey to give away the most blatant penalty I’ve seen all season. Evans, who was posing no goal threat and looking like he was trying to buy time to think his next move couldn’t believe his luck. That Jay Tabb protested to the referee about the decision made it all the more comical. I wonder what he was trying to achieve there from something so blatant. Did he think the referee was going to say “oh that’s what happened is it, sorry mate, I’ll give a free kick to you instead”. Sometimes emotion can overtake a penalised player in position of giving away a dubious penalty but what was Tabb’s excuse ? How many given penalties have you seen rescinded over the years from a players protest ? There was no great feeling of anticipation as Wayne Rooney ran up to take the penalty. There have been too many missed this season for that but Rooney put the ball nicely to Adam Federici’s left as he dived right. Now was the time for calm heads, steady the ship so to speak and let United’s experience and professionalism calm the game down, right ? Bollocks it was. A minute after Rooney put United in front, boyhood red, Adam le Fondre equalised for Reading with a free header from five yards out. Whilst Le Fondre will be credited with the goal, veteran Reading forward Jason Roberts deserves credit for creating chaos in the United goaline and thus, distracting Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra and goalkeeper Anders Lindergaard.
Wayne Rooney put’s United in the lead with a penalty on 16 minutes
On 22 minutes after more diabolical defending from United, Sean Morrison made the score 3-2 for Reading. The most annoying thing about this goal is that there four United players guarding the goal line while Morrison gained the free header and the ball still worked it’s way past them. Jason Roberts had yet again caused distraction in the United penalty area. This was a similar tactic that Liverpool used on David De Gea at Anfield last January in the FA Cup match at Anfield. That afternoon, Andy Carroll was dispatched to hustle and mither David De Gea on corners and it was a job he did well. Today Jason Roberts did the same to Anders Lindergaard. It’s a very old fashioned manoeuvre but when done correctly can be done with devastating effect, I’m amazed it doesn’t happen more often. Eight minutes after Morrison put Reading in front, Wayne Rooney equalised with a simple side footed goal from ten yards out after some great work by Patrice Evra down his left hand flank. That Rooney was left alone ten yards out made Readings defending as bad as Uniteds. Both teams had defences that looked like they had the familiarity of an identity parade. After thirty minutes, the score was 3-3. I’ve seen some mad matches over the years watching United but this could be the maddest one yet.
Wayne Rooney equalises on 30 minutes to make the score 3-3
A minute after Rooney equalised for United, Rafael was substituted, minutes after getting a daft booking for a foul on Jobi McAnuff who was running him ragged. I can’t recall the last time Sir Alex Ferguson substituted a player so early in a match who wasn’t injured. Rafael was inconsolable after being subbed but such was the nature of this match that three minutes later, it was all forgotten about when Wayne Rooney, with an exquisite flick from a Michael Carrick pass set up Robin Van Persie for what turned out to be the winning goal. Four minutes after Van Persies goal, he put the ball over the line but Readings Adrian Mariappa kicked the ball out a yard or so over. This happened so quickly that it’s fair to give the linesman the benefit of the doubt. Unlike people watching at home, he doesn’t get an action replay and in real time, I wasn’t sure it was a goal either. I remember a similar incident at Old Trafford in 2005 in a game between United and Tottenham when Roy Carroll pulled the ball from behind the line and no goal was given. After that if we didn’t see that incident one hundred times, we saw it a thousand coupled with a load of enraged rhetoric by know nowt big mouths voicing wild conspiracy theories about how United always get the benefit of these decisions, I’ve not yet heard too many complaints about tonights decision. I suppose there’s time yet.
Robin Van Persie scores the winner for United on 34 minutes
All this happened before half time in one of the most amazing halves of football I’ve ever seen. The defending by both sides was so comically bad that I was laughing at it at half time. If United defend like that next week at City, I doubt I’ll be laughing like I was today. With a half time score of 4-3, a possible repeat of the highest ever score draw between Leicester City and Arsenal, 6-6 from April 1930 would’ve been a feasible bet. After some of the results today, I’ll be amazed if anybody has picked up a penny from an accumulator after what happened. Chelsea lost at West Ham, Arsenal lost at home to Swansea, City drew at home with Everton, Celtic drew at home to Arbroath and Liverpool beat Southampton in an atmosphere which the BBC’s correspondant Stuart Hall, described as silent.
Robin Van Persie shot that wasn’t given as a goal on 38 minutes
The second half was a far more calm affair, on 65 minutes, Robin Van Persie missed from six yards after seizing on a mistake by Adam Federici. He took the ball wide of the goal and had to snap at the chance. Two minutes after that to my surprise and relief, Reading manager Brian McDermott substituted Jason Roberts for Russian international Pavel Pogrebnyak. Like Roberts, Pogrebnyak is a big imposing lad but he doesn’t carry the same menacing presence of Roberts. The match quietly fizzled out in the last twenty minutes which was fair enough, the first thirty five minutes was entertainment enough. There was however two free headers in injury time for Sean Morrison which he thankfully didn’t convert. It was an enthralling game of football but United had better tighten up quickly for next weekend. As for Reading, I’m not going to start a love affair with them but with their fearless abandon and attacking attitude, I hope they stick around. I like to see teams play with their aggression.
The view for United fans at the South Stand of the madejski stadium of Wayne Rooney who’s about to take the penalty (Photo courtesy of Neil Meehan)