The 2nd from bottom club in the Premier League played the soon to be crowned Champions on a day where results went Manchester United's way and none helped Reading FC. However, despite the vast gulf in the league the two teams played out a rather dull yet competitive encounter edged by a deflected goal.
A Subdued Game
The whole game had an end of the season, nothing to play for feel about it. A quiet crowd, a lack of chances and a relatively subdued Manchester United meant very little happened. United knew they were going to win and were just seeing out the minutes without having a real go at the Reading defence. It seemed even if Reading had managed to bag a goal United would have been able to turn up the pressure and restore the lead anyway.
Hunt Leading The Line
Having started the season with the 4-4-2 that served the team so well in the Championship, Brian McDermott's most successful period in the Premier League came with a formation switch to 4-5-1. With Pavel Pogrebnyak suspended for the last two games, McDermott switched back to 4-4-2 and the team looked as overrun and outclassed as they had at the start of the season. The game at Old Trafford saw a return to 4-5-1 with Noel Hunt leading the line up front.
Although he didn't have a shot all game, Hunt was strong and good value until he was substituted, dragging Vidic all over the pitch and creating space and chances for his teammates. The much-underrated Hunt is out of contract this summer and, depending on the new manager, will probably be gone by the start of next season. His work rate, character and impressive leap will be missed.
Better Reading Possession
48% possession against Manchester United at Old Trafford, a stat in contrast to the only 40% against Aston Villa at home the week before. Perhaps this was down to the subdued nature of the game. Or perhaps it was a sign of the possession based, passing football that Eamonn Dolan engenders in the Academy. Either way it was refreshing to see players who many considered unable to play a passing game, knock it about with confidence and skill. A sign of things to come?
When Reading had their best ever finish in the 06/07 season they had some excellent crossers of the ball in Graham Murty, Glen Little, Bobby Convey and Noel Hunt. This season has been marked with an incredibly low quality level of delivery. Against United, McCleary and Robson-Kanu didn't deliver a good cross all game. The normal wide men of Kebe and McAnuff don't deliver regular quality balls either. Only 06/07 Alum Nicky Shorey can play in a decent ball so it was a huge positive to see him back in the first team replacing Ian Harte. Harte is known for his quality delivery but is unable to get forward enough to join attacks. For a team that relies so heavily on balls from out wide Reading need to bring in some players who can whip a ball in with more accuracy.
Ryan Giggs: An Old And Amazing Man
Back in 1996 Manchester United visited Elm Park in a FA Cup game that saw them take on a Division 1 Reading side. Ryan Giggs scored that day. It really is amazing to see him still at it after all these years, dictating play and outpacing players nearly half his age.
Nicky Hammond was in goal at that cup-tie in 1996, he was at the game this weekend but in the stands as Director of Football for Reading FC. In that time Reading have moved stadium, been relegated and promoted a few times and gone through a bunch of managers. Essentially, Giggs is old and has been playing at the top for long time hasn't he? An amazing player.
Back in January, Reading signed Daniel Carrico from Sporting Lisbon. The club's PR department went into full propaganda mode exalting the great success in bagging the versatile Portuguese. In went Carrico into the first game against West Bromich Albion, thanks to Brian McDermott's infamous “gut decisions”. Carrico was rightly hooked at half time and hasn't played a minute since. Noises from the club seem to suggest they are trying to get him ready for next season. Though he appeared on the bench for a cup game so he clearly isn't injured. So perhaps Carrico isn't up to speed yet or is a total dud. Either way it begs the question why on earth was he playing in that game against West Brom? McDermott did great things at Reading but he made some odd decisions along the way.