Opportunistic Nani destroys Reading

Posted by Mark Payne

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesManchester United's Nani, right, scored the first goal in the 69th minute. But he was a factor almost immediately after replacing Phil Jones in the 40th minute.

Making the grade at Manchester United is all about taking advantage of your chances. Nani was an unused substitute against Everton in the Premier League last week and didn't even make the bench against Real Madrid. Monday, he replaced the injured Phil Jones after 40 minutes and took the game by the scruff of the neck.

One goal, one assist, one Man of the Match performance later and United are in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.

- United survive, advance to quarterfinals

The 2-1 victory over Reading was notable for the desire coursing through the Manchester United team. This cold night in February could have been the game of their lives, and such was the energy the players put into their work. All of this talk of an epic conclusion to the season is clearly having an effect. United realise they are capable of beating anyone and that the rewards could be immense.

Reading were no pushovers, though. Even at two-nil down, they clawed a goal back. The finish saw their excellent keeper, Adam Federici, surge up the pitch to join the final attacks. If they put half the effort they put in here to their league campaign, they should avoid relegation comfortably.

Federici was superb all night. United had flown out of the traps and their players swarmed over the Reading goal throughout the first half. Despite this, Reading held firm, and after half an hour, Federici's series of improbable saves seemed to be swaying things their way.

It was the introduction of Nani for the hobbling Phil Jones that swung things back in United’s favour. The winger played like a man possessed, seemingly affronted that he didn’t get the opportunity to strut his stuff in the Bernabeu.

Within a minute, he had had one shot saved and his stupendous volley had bounced off the post.

At the other end, there was another solid display from Nemanja Vidic. If anything is sent into the Manchester United box aerially, it will be clobbered out by a part of the Serb’s body. Alongside Chris Smalling, the defence looked reasonably assured and it is a challenge to think of a time when United have had four centre-halves playing as well as these two and Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans.

Manchester United is really kicking into gear now, and the feeling that this crop of players has been undervalued is starting to grow. This is a team with character, depth and flexibility. In the past week, they have played three different formations and almost three completely different teams. On every occasion, the side has performed with distinction.

Chelsea likely await in the next round, but United are only two games from Wembley and this competition is high on the agenda at Old Trafford. Wherever United go in the coming months, it is clear that Nani wants to be a part of it. After his performance Monday, he surely deserves a start against QPR.

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