Nani magic guides United past Reading

Posted by Musa Okwonga

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.

Manchester United 2, Reading 1. Two goals in 90 seconds decided this match, though the closing stages would see Old Trafford somewhat anxious. Nani was the star, scoring the first and creating the decisive second for Javier Hernandez. Though his introduction was fortuitous, coming after Phil Jones twisted his ankle in the first half, his performance left nothing to chance.

Though Reading are fighting relegation, Manchester United were not messing about. The team, arranged in a 4-4-2, featured several changes from the one that drew in Madrid but highlighted the depth of this season's squad. David De Gea began in goal, with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic and Alexander Buttner ahead of him; the midfield comprised Antonio Valencia, Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Ashley Young, while Danny Welbeck and Hernandez started up front.

This was a line-up that could easily compete for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and in the opening moments they played like it. Within two minutes Hernandez found space in the area with a superb stutter of a dummy, and his shot was parried by Adam Federici to Welbeck eight yards out. Fortunately, Reading found the England striker in obliging mood. Two minutes later, Welbeck was freed on the left by a fine reverse pass from Young, but Federici again denied him from 10 yards.

Reading then showed how dangerous they could be, with Nicky Shorey sending in two excellent set pieces in quick succession; first a sharply-dipping corner that was bundled clear by the home side, and then a free-kick, needlessly conceded by Vidic out on the right, for which the Serb made amends with a vital headed clearance as Sean Morrison lurked.

After this interlude, Manchester United's onslaught continued, and after just 25 minutes they had already had six efforts on target. Federici, outstanding throughout, palmed aside a pulsing 20-yard drive from Cleverley, and Young, following up, watched in disbelief as the goalkeeper flung his right hand down and across to deflect the ball behind. But after Noel Hunt had suffered a nasty cut after a clash of heads with Vidic, the game's pivotal injury arrived. Jones, who had till then pressed forward from right-back with impressive urgency, was sent limping from a challenge and Nani came on. Immediately, the Portugal winger - whose future is widely rumoured to be away from Old Trafford, and soon - raised excitement around the ground, first hitting a sublime right-foot volley against the base of the post from the right-hand corner of the penalty area, and then, in injury time, striking a rising left-foot shot which the flying Federici turned over the bar.

The second half followed a similar pattern, with the home side surging forward but repeatedly thwarted by their resilient visitors. Reading, having emerged from this early discomfort, then threatened as Adam Le Fondre almost found himself clear in the area. After that, though, United - marshalled by the irrepressible Cleverley - showed their disdain for a reply. Van Persie was brought on for Ashley Young, and six minutes later the first goal arrived. Nani found himself room in the area, and after taking a square pass from Valencia finished with a low right-foot strike. Ninety seconds later, Nani then curved in a hard, flat cross from deep on the right wing, which a soaring Hernandez met with his head at the near post.

It all appeared to be over. United poured forward as if only goal difference would take them through, and Van Persie added a couple of moments to the highlight reel - a backheeled volley to release Welbeck on the left, and an exquisite cross-field pass to Valencia on the right. But then, with eight minutes to go, Jobi McAnuff stole onto a rebound ahead of a sluggish Manchester United defence and Old Trafford was forced to wait out a nervy last few set pieces. Carrick was brought on to see out the game, though proceedings by now were anything but calm. Indeed, on the break, Nani and Hernandez almost made it three; but tonight was a night where two would do.

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