Manchester United 1-0 Reading
Manchester United’s match against Reading was like taking a duff date to dance. Could be your sister, your mother, your gran, your stepmother, Lidia Bastianich, Reading, Ragi Omar in drag or Dame Judi Dench. Well, yes, they did what was expected and played poor sad-sack rictus-riddled Reading, but, after a pathetic performance by Manchester City against Everton at Goodison, perhaps a bit more oomph and emotion had been expected. It was an easy, albeit plodding victory over a depressed, poor Reading side. Still a 1-0 win was enough. Enough to put them 15 points ahead of the sky-blue Abu Dhabian rent boys and two steps closer to a 20th League title. Of course, there are nine games left and a City comeback is still mathematically possible, but barely probable nevertheless. Should United win their next game against a relegation -zone mired Sunderland and City lose to a lowly ranked-but-resurgent Newcastle United, the red devils could feasibly clinch in the Derby match on April 8 at the Al-Itehad..
And United’s star of the evening? Well, David De Gea didn’t put a foot wrong; unfortunately, he had nothing top do but work on his English conversation skills with fans behind him in in the Stretford End. No, the galvanizing lord of the light and good was a certain veteran named Rio Ferdinand. The Peckham Kid, well and truly buoyed, it seems, having been recently recalled to the England squad after being involved in a long Wagnerian opera with its current and previous managers, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, was involved in most of United’s clever connective play throughout. Indeed, having bemoaned Father Time’s slow asphyxiation of Rio’s capabilities as probably the most mobile centre-back in the world over the past fifteen as his wonky back and hamstrings have repeatedly betrayed him this season, I’ve been shocked at his recent return tio form andfitness.
Seven minutes in there was a sprint worthy of his mate Usain Bolt, as Ferdinand nicked the ball off Jobi McAnuff’s toe, took off, and then put in a superb fifty-yard seeing-eye-pass for a flying Ashley Young whose shot only narrowly went wide of Stuart Taylor.
Then, however, he took it to the next level when he created Wayne Rooney’s goal in the 21st minute. Indeed, his 20th minute energy surge, a 34-year-olds clever bit of stop-start running, as he backed up Gareth McCleary, surged past Mariappa, tapped a sweet ball to Wayne Rooney and bounced happily on his toes as the Scouse striker fired a bullet at goal which was deflected into the goal off stranded defender Alex Pearce. It was a sweet little ooh-ah moment for Rio, instant nostalgia as, like Ryan Giggs, he seemed to effortlessly throw off the shackles of age, back pain and jelly legs, for a fine minute or two of beautiful purity.
There were eight changes from the side which drew with Chelsea. Only Rooney, De Gea and Ferdinand took the field against nineteenth-placed Reading. With next week’s international break looming, United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson surely felt a sustained break could do the likes of Michael Carrick, Rafael Di Silva and Patrice Evra good. Much of the usual chit-chat on British sports radio has been taken up with discussion of just how much both physical and mental tiredness affected United’s Real Madrid and Chelsea results. Yet beyond the usual giggles about millionaire lifestyles, Wayne Rooney’s pack-of-fags-per-day habit and Ryan Giggs’ sex-life, there was something sad about pundits and fans on Talk Sports, et al ,whinging about the whinging coning from the Gaffer and Chelsea’s Rafa Benitez about players being tired. But with so many younger players from bothe clubs playing for G.B. at the Olympics, in international competition and the usual lack of a British winter break, there has to be a grain of truth in their exvuses. Are the squad all knackered, many fools ponder. If so, what’s the point of having a squad? And how come the constantly injured Anderson and Phil Jones seem exhausted also?
At any rate, aside from Hal Robson-Kanu’s 25-yard effort flying way wide and referee Lee Maon failing to blow for a Nemanja Vidic penalty area pushing foul on Adrian Mariappa. during a Nicky Shorey corner, Reading were mostly invisible. Named emergency manager after the firing of Brian McDermott in mid-week, Eamonn Dolan was like a man looking for a needle inside a haystack that had been tied to his back. Thus burdened, Dolan was smart enough not to get too excited when the warrior of the day, Rio Ferdinand, made a shamefully bad pass back to De Gea which Gareth McCauley picked off, but then, after a fine, tricky run, McCauley gave the ball away when faced down by Vidic and De Gea. That moment was Reading’s high water mark of the day: Welcome to the Premier League!
The second half was simply Dull. Much had been expected from Alexander Büttner and Anderson, but the only thing they were consistent about was giving the ball away. Büttner, Welbeck and Young all took shots before Robin van Persie botched a free-kick that Taylor saved. easily. Sir Alex Ferguson had only one uncomfortable surprise left up his sleeve when, after Ashley Young got into a painful collision with McCleary, he brought on Michael Carrick to shore up the midfield. Having told the press all week just how tired his midfield master was, the boss was worried enough about Reading stealing a draw that he took the route of least resistance and shut up shop.
“We must be vigilant,” Ferguson said after the game when he was asked about bringing on Carrick. “Horses for courses. We let our guard down collectively this time last year. I won’t allow it to happen again.”