Due to us knowing who’s been drawn in the next round, tonights match actually felt like a replay at the first time of asking. Bearing in mind the logistics, if ESPN really must show a match on a Monday night, couldn’t they have arranged for Everton’s match at Boundary Park for it instead. Season ticket holders all got begging texts the other day from United asking us if we wanted to bring a relative, friend or even an enemy and since the final whistle, we have been informed that the money for the next round is to be deducted from our accounts forthwith with an admirable speed. You’ve got to admire the efficiency of the United ticket office in sorting this out, an efficiency which nearly always induces a strong response when discussed by reds who have the fortune to deal with them. Many times in recent years, I’ve moaned about the atmosphere at Old Trafford but tonight was in comparison with recent matches, a reasonably good one, certainly in the East Lower (Scoreboard end for old school) where I was tonight for a change of scenery. The Stretford End were making a decent racket. As for Reading fans, they were like every other half witted collective of Southerners who’ve polluted our palatial stadium with their presence this season. I’ll give the Scousers one thing, they hate us with a hatred that is unique, it’s when you come across the wasters that support these Southern teams (Tottenham excepted) that you appreciate that. They all sing the same songs/chants in an attempt to rile United fans into a reaction and then get all sour when a bored United crowd can’t be arsed engaging. The usual generic shite about supporting their local team (when they appear to be doing everything but) and about how all United fans are cockneys. Half the time, I’m there thinking “ahh bless” the way you would indulge a crowd of children who are having a bit of harmless fun. They must think that we have never heard this “banter” before or failing that, they are doing what Southerners are famously good at and strangling the life out of a half decent joke ad infinitum.
The match itself had all the echoes of the sickening FA Cup defeat to Portsmouth in March 2008. Then, United obliterated a Pompey team whom were on en route to winning the cup, only to somehow lose 1-0. With the reckless squandering of good chances in the first half, particularly with good chances missed by Javier Hernandez and Ashley Young, United went in 0-0 at half time. The most annoying thing was when players were expected to pull the trigger in good attacking positions, they would instead lay off the ball in an apparent attempt to score a Wengeresque goal. On 42 minutes, Phil Jones went off injured after an innocuous challenge by Reading midfielder Jobi McAnuff, to be replaced by Nani. After the calming of all the hyperbole of the early part of last season regarding Phil Jones, he seems to have found an equilibrium, in particular against Real Madrid last week and I’m just hoping that the injury is not as bad as first appeared when he limped off the filed tonight just before half time. As for Nani, he had one of his better games although his crossing remains lamentable. Nani hit the post just before half time but after the second half commenced, he played with a purpose which reminds us all how potent he can be on his day. On a highly frustrating night, Nani broke the deadlock on 69 minutes and thus became for the third match in succession, a player to nause up everybody’s first goalscorer bet. Two minutes later, Javier Hernandez beat Adam Federici on his near post to head home in the Stretford End to give United some breathing space after what had previously been an anxious night. With ten minutes to go, an unmarked Jobi McAnuff brought Reading back into the tie with a goal from six yards. Whilst Reading made a game of it after that goal, they never truly threatened David De Gea.
It’s been a strange year for the cup. Arsenal beaten at home by Blackburn, Liverpool beaten by (come on) Oldham and Tottenham beaten by the Leeds vermin. For all that, one thing has stayed consistent with recent history and that is Uniteds constant drawing of fellow Premier League clubs. United tonight played a team that haven’t beaten them since a third round second replay at Elm Park in January 1927. In December there was was an epic game between United and Reading with seven goals in 35 minutes and a few weeks before that, there was the all time classic league cup match between Reading and Arsenal. Whilst there is, at the time of writing, a 42 point difference in the sides, Reading are a feisty and spirited side and only a mug would take them for mugs. United have been drawn against either FA Cup holders Chelsea or Middlesbrough in the sixth round. I may be wrong but I strongly fancy that match to be against Chelsea and if so, It would be 8th consecutive time United have been drawn against a Premier League side. That should give the conspiracy theorists something to get their teeth into.