Sunday, February 18, 2007

Manchester United 1-1 Reading

FIFTH ROUND
Sat., Feb. 17, 2007
Matchday Wrap Matchday Photos
Chelsea 4-0 Norwich City Recap
Watford 1-0 Ipswich Recap
Plymouth 2-0 Derby Recap
Man Utd 1-1 Reading Recap
Arsenal 0-0 Blackburn Recap
Boro 2-2 West Brom Recap
Sun., Feb. 18, 2007
Fulham vs. Tottenham
Preston vs. Man City


The Royals' only previous appearance in the last eight came as long ago as 1927. But now they have the chance to knock United out on home soil at the Madejski Stadium to advance to the same stage once more.

Reading were thankful the Red Devils failed to take a host of clear opportunities, both before and after Michael Carrick had put the hosts in front.

But, for their tenacity alone, Steve Coppell's men deserved another crack at the Red Devils.

When the teams were announced, it was pretty easy to see why Sir Alex Ferguson had offered such public backing to Coppell's decision to make wholesale changes.

While Coppell brought seven new faces into his starting line-up, Ferguson was not that far behind him with six.

Tuesday's Champions League trip to Lille offered an obvious reason for Ferguson's decision but it still did not do much to enhance the status of a competition United have won a record 11 times.

Coppell was part of one of those successes - in 1977 - and was also famously in charge of the Crystal Palace side United needed a replay to beat to lift Ferguson's first trophy, the 1990 FA Cup, and it soon became apparent the former Old Trafford favourite's side would be no easier to overcome than his old one.

Too often, promising attacks came to an end in disappointing fashion. On three separate occasions, Park Ji-Sung was found wanting, which must have distressed a vast South Korean media corps come to witness his personal duel with Seol Ki-Hyeon.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wasted United's best chance of the opening stages when Andre Bikey failed to cut out Carrick's low cross. The Norwegian seemed surprised when the ball rolled through to him and merely allowed to bounced off him, giving Adam Federici the chance to save.

Federici had no chance of winning his next one-on-one duel with Solskjaer, who controlled instantly, then drilled through the Reading goalkeeper's legs after Bikey's clearance had looped towards him off Park.

Unfortunately for United, an offside flag had been raised when TV replays indicated Solskjaer was level with Bikey.

Had Reading held out until the break, referee Graham Poll could have expected to hear a few choice words from the United camp. As it was, Carrick had put them in front, so all was well.

Having embarked on the latest in a series of blistering forward bursts, Ronaldo seemed to have run into a dead end, so simply laid the ball off to Carrick.

With only one goal to his name since an £18.6million summer move from Tottenham, Carrick is hardly a sharp-shooter. But his 25-yard strike, which arrowed into the bottom corner, must have drawn admiring glances from all United's illustrious forward contingent.

Ronaldo was still keen to make a more meaningful contribution though and had Federici panicking when he controlled Darren Fletcher's angled ball on his chest, then volleyed towards the Reading goal as he fell. Fortunately for the visitors, the winger was marginally off target.

Given that piece of near genius, and other bits of mesmerising skill which illuminated an otherwise drab evening, it is little wonder Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona appear willing to break the bank to sign him.

However, for once in this stunning season, the winger left his shooting boots at home.

And, after two misses, the first of which was an obvious chance after Park had sent him clean through, United were made to pay for his wastefulness.

Serious question marks will be asked of Saha after he left Gunnarsson with a free run onto John Oster's corner.

The finish was as close to perfect as it was possible to be as the Icelander's header bounced in off the underside of the bar.

Ferguson immediately introduced Paul Scholes, Henrik Larsson and Patrice Evra to set up a frenzied finish.

Larsson went close at one end, Reading substitute Stephen Hunt at the other.

But, when Saha failed to convert United's final opportunity late on, Reading were able to celebrate another famous mini-triumph on what is turning into the finest season in their history.

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