Manchester United 2 Reading 1
Nani had almost become a forgotten figure at Old Trafford but he came off the bench to give a timely reminder of the talent he still possesses with a goal and an assist to ensure Manchester United’s treble quest continued last night.
It shows how much Nani’s stock has fallen that even though he was not selected in a much-changed side for an FA Cup game against Reading that barely an eyebrow was raised.
But the Portuguese winger, who was only introduced because of a first-half injury to Phil Jones, put away a second-half effort before curling in a delightful cross for Javier Hernandez to head in as United eased into the quarter-final despite a late scare when Jobi McAnuff pulled one back for the visitors.
Maybe he was only on the bench because of a recent collision with a police car in Manchester, when he was stationary in his flash vehicle, but the winger certainly proved that he can still make an impact on United’s season.
“When we got the goal, we really had to defend well. I have to say, we should have punished them better,” said United manager Alex Ferguson.
“I think Nani’s contribution was terrific. He had two chances straight away when he came on. I had a feeling he would win the match for us.”
The FA Cup is a desirable trophy for Ferguson and United as they have not won it since 2004 but with eight changes, this was certainly an audition for those who have not been featuring regularly of late to really put forward their claim for starting spot when the Champions League second leg with Real Madrid comes round.
With Robin van Persie looking on from the bench and Wayne Rooney not in the squad, Hernandez was one of those changes and he had an early shot blocked by Adrian Mariappa.
Reading keeper Adam Federici was then alert to push away a low effort from Danny Welbeck as United looked up for the cup with a blistering start.
That pace soon slowed and Reading were able to find their feet without stretching the United defence and Nemanja Vidic towered above the Royals’ attack to clear a dangerous corner by Nicky Shorey in the 15th minute.
Irishman Noel Hunt was left bloodied on the back of his head after a clash of heads with Vidic, who himself sported a cut on his brow.
Not long after, Ashley Young had a tame effort saved by Federici after the Reading keeper recovered from parrying Tom Cleverley’s low strike.
Jones, after his impressive man-marking job against Cristiano Ronaldo last week, could be a doubt for the return leg in two weeks’ time after injuring his ankle in a clash with McAnuff and left Old Trafford in a protective cast.
Nani, who replaced the injured Jones, then got straight into the action just before the break with his powerful strike whizzing by Federici before hitting the post and spinning to safety.
The winger, whose future at the club is in doubt over apparent stalling of contract negotiations, seemed fired up and he hit another effort from range that had Federici at full stretch to push over the bar just before the break.
A deflected header from Vidic off Sean Morrison had to be cleared off the line by Reading striker Hunt, who was playing with staples in a head wound after the clash with the Serbian defender in the first half.
Ferguson was checking his watch nervously as he stood on the touchline before calling for van Persie to finish his warm up and get ready to replace Young.
But it was his first-half change that opened the scoring as Antonio Valencia set up the often frustrating and wasteful Nani, who powered in after controlling with ease in the area in the 69th minute.
Adam Le Fondre almost responded immediately but David de Gea palmed away before Hernandez nodded in after a superb cross from Nani in the 72nd minute and the game seemed to be all over.
However, after being almost camped in their own half for the entirety of the second half, Reading suddenly sprung into life and bombarded the United area, with McAnuff making the most of an error from Chris Smalling to fire in low. Brian McDermott’s side have had a number of recent late comebacks but Le Fondre headed over in the dying moments as Reading pushed forward, with even Federici in the hosts’ area.
United survived and will now host the winners of Chelsea and Middlesbrough, the delayed fifth-round tie, in the last eight of the competition as their pursuit of recreating the 1999treble ambles on.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): De Gea 7; Jones 6 (Nani 42, 8), Smalling 5, Vidic 7, Buttner 6; Valencia 6, Cleverley 7, Anderson 6 (Carrick 82), Young 5 (Van Persie 63, 6); Welbeck 5, Chicharito 7.
READING (4-4-2): Federici 8; Kelly 6, Mariappa 7, Morrison 7 Shorey 6; McCleary 5 (Robson-Kanu 70, 6), Karacan 6, Leigertwood 5 (Guthrie 63, 6), McAnuff 6; Hunt 7, Le Fondre 7.
Referee: Andre Marriner 7.
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