Sunday, March 17, 2013

Going Through the Motions: Manchester United 1 - Reading 0

photo by √oхέƒx™via PhotoRee

A strangely subdued Manchester United held off an outclassed Reading side, 1-0 at Old Traffford on Saturday, in a game that had far-reaching implications at both ends of the League table. Coming on the heels of Manchester City's 1-0 loss to Everton earlier in the afternoon, United's victory effectively ended any remaining suspense in the title race, while Reading's loss continued a dismal run of form for the visitors that has seen them dragged all the way down to 19th place. The game was noticeable for the lack of chances created by both sides, and if the sign of a Champion is winning despite suffering through an off-day, the men in Red played as if their 20th title was in the bag before the first ball was even kicked.

The visitors began the game brightly, appearing unfazed despite their dismal track record against the home side and the rocky week they had just come through, which culminated in the sacking of their Manager, Brian McDermott.  For their part, the home side played the part of affable host, looking either unable or unwilling to threaten the men in blue and white for the first 15 minutes of action. Ashley Young's narrow miss was the first sign the Red Devils were awakening from their somnambulant state, but the winger was unable to either curl the ball into the far corner or pick out the onrushing Robin Van Persie.

By the 20 minute mark the Reds were beginning to grind through the gears rather quickly, and few watching the match would have been surprised when Wayne Rooney opened the scoring on a deflected shot that eluded the grasp of Reading 'keeper Stuart Taylor. The game's only goal was set up by a brilliant run and pass from the unlikeliest of sources: central defender, and recent England Call up, Rio Ferdinand.

Reading's Taylor was an increasingly busy man as the half progressed, the 'keeper's abilities tested by Young, Van Persie, Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck, in addition to Rooney, as the United attack came from all sides and angles. Although Hal Robson-Kanu came close to leveling the score just after the half hour mark, the Reading winger's miss came against the run of play and during one of the visitor's few threats outside of the opening portion of the match. 

Both teams struggled to create openings as the half drew to a conclusion, a result of multiple turnovers and the downpouring rain that slickened the Old Trafford pitch.   The halftime whistle was heard clearly throughout the stadium, competing as it was only against the sounds of stifled yawns emanating from around the grounds. The home team may have been  in control, but it's fair to say they weren't exactly setting the world on fire in the game's first 45 minutes.

The second half began with a bang, but the sound of Adrian Mariappa hitting the ground after being manhandled in the box by Nemanja Vidic went both unnoticed and unpunished by Referee Lee Mason. The assault appeared to fire up the visitors, who reacted to the oversight with their brightest spell of the afternoon.  But just as in the first half, the home side played the veteran pugilist role to perfection, absorbing blows without being troubled and looking for openings of their own on an overextended opponent.

Taylor was forced to wake up from a second half nap to deny Van Persie on a free kick from outside the box, and the blow seemed to spark the crowd into life, as well.  Desperate as they were for any bit of action, those in attendance appeared to be mimicking the players on the pitch: going through the motions with just over 20 minutes left to play.

Sir Alex called upon Michael Carrick to replace a battered Young, while Reading brought on  late game specialist Adam LeFondre for the run-in. Despite rarely threatening David De Gea's goal, the Royals were still in the game in the dying minutes -- a nagging pain the home side appeared unable to shake.  Although Rooney came close to doubling his delight near full time, the home side's attention in the closing minutes was mainly directed at keeping a clean sheet to insure maximum points.

This is farlieonfootie wishing you a Happy St. Patrick's Day on March 17.

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