Manchester United overcame stubborn Reading resistance to book an FA Cup quarter-final berth at Old Trafford last night - but the victory came at the cost after Phil Jones was forced off with a first-half injury.
Scorers: Manchester United - Nani (69), Hernandez (72); Reading - McAnuff (81)
Selected at right-back, Jones was hurt after attempting to tackle Reading skipper Jobi McAnuff and it was immediately obvious the former Blackburn man was in considerable pain.
Jones headed straight down the tunnel and it seems the man who helped subdue Cristiano Ronaldo in the first leg of United’s Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu faces a battle to be fit for the return on 5 March.
The injury took the gloss off a victory that keeps United on track for a repeat of their historic 1999 treble, and Sir Alex Ferguson on course for a possible encounter with Rafael Benitez, whose Chelsea team must beat Middlesbrough for the right to face the Red Devils in the last eight.
The third goal of Nani’s largely disappointing season and Javier Hernandez’s 15th strike of the campaign saw the hosts through, although McAnuff’s late effort ensured the Red Devils were never able to relax. In the opening stages as the hosts carved their opponents open at will. A goalmouth scramble after just 90 seconds saw Hernandez’s shot blocked, Danny Welbeck fluff the rebound and Antonio Valencia finally head straight at Adam Federici.
As it turned out, it was one of Federici’s least taxing jobs. The Reading goalkeeper was also forced to deny Welbeck and Ashley Young had a shot blocked before the visitors got into their stride, with Noel Hunt to the fore.
Hunt sustained a nasty cut following a collision with Nemanja Vidic that required two shirt changes, but also set the pattern for a bruising collision between the pair. Vidic just edged it; one header out of his own six-yard box under severe pressure was particularly impressive, but it was Hunt who brought an excellent save out of David De Gea with a rasping 20-yard drive.
Jones’ departure, while potentially a major blow to Ferguson’s plans for subduing Ronaldo next month, inadvertently sparked the hosts into life.
Nani’s third touch following his introduction as Jones’s replacement saw him strike the far post with a fine volley, while his fourth was tipped over by Federici’s flying save. Hunt cleared a deflected Vidic header off the line, Federici saved from Anderson and Nani flashed a shot wide following the introduction of Robin van Persie.
Ferguson’s obvious frustration at Reading slowing the game down extended to a message apparently being sent to the ball-boys to do their jobs with a little more speed. There was one more save from Federici before the dam finally broke. Nani’s introduction had undoubtedly been significant and moments after his effort had been repelled, he strode onto Valencia’s cross and supplied a deadly finish. When Hernandez flashed home a near-post header on United’s next attack, it appeared their work was complete.
Instead, McAnuff struck nine minutes from time to bring a familiar sense of nervousness to Old Trafford which only Andre Marriner’s final whistle was able to ease.
Manchester United: De Gea, Smalling, Jones (Nani 42), Vidic, Buttner, Valencia, Cleverley, Anderson (Carrick 83), Young (Van Persie 64), Welbeck, Hernandez. Subs Not Used: Lindegaard, Ferdinand, Giggs, Kagawa.
Reading: Federici, Kelly, Mariappa, Morrison, Shorey, McCleary (Robson-Kanu 70), Leigertwood (Guthrie 63), Karacan, McAnuff, Hunt, Le Fondre. Subs Not Used: Andersen, Gunter, Pearce, Pogrebnyak, Carrico. Referee: Andre Marriner