The Royals were only just edged out by Manchester United at Madejski Stadium on Saturday evening, in a remarkable encounter that saw all seven goals scored in the opening half.
Brian McDermott’s men took an early need after an emphatic strike from Hal Robson-Kanu, before the visitors took just seven minutes to go in-front themselves; Anderson crashing home from the left of the box before Wayne Rooney sent Federici the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Not to be deterred, Reading fought back remarkably – with Reds’ fan Adam Le Fondre and defender Sean Morrison both heading home Nicky Shorey corners before the half hour mark.
However, two classy goals from two classy players, Rooney and Van Persie – would give Alex Ferguson’s men the edge at the break – and this time it was a lead they would not relinquish.
Under the floodlights, against one of the biggest teams in the world, let alone in Europe – it had the sense of a special occasion at Madejski Stadium for this early evening kick-off, and that was only heightened in the opening stages.
Remarkably Brian McDermott’s men were to take the lead just eight minutes in; Jobi McAnuff swinging in a dangerous in-swinging cross that was only half dealt with by the United, allowing the ball to fall at the feet of Hal Robson-Kanu.
Arguably this was the biggest night of the Academy product’s fledgling career, but he showed no trace of nerves as he calmly cushioned the ball with his chest before fizzing a superb strike into the top corner. Anders Lindergaard was helpless.
Unsurprisingly Alex Ferguson’s men weren’t going to take that lying down. Despite some more Reading pressure following the opening goal, they reacted swiftly – with Ashley Young finding space on the left and feeding Anderson, who smashed past Adam Federici’s near post and into the net. The lead had lasted all of five minutes – and the reprisal wasn’t over.
Jonny Evans was bundled to the floor by Jay Tabb inside the area, with Mark Halsey given little choice but to point to the spot, and Wayne Rooney stepped made no mistake – sending Federici the wrong way to give his side the lead.
Was that the end of a remarkable opening burst? Not quite. Nicky Shorey’s fantastic corner was brilliantly met by United fan Le Fondre, who powered a header home to level the scores once more. He had spoken in the week about his burning desire to score against his boyhood club, and the joy was clearly etched on his face as he pointed in celebration to his family in the stands.
Blue and white tails were up once more; McAnuff almost got on the end of a flighted pass from the lively Tabb, before Sean Morrison would go one step further to set the stadium alight.
Another pinpoint Shorey corner was brilliantly headed home by the giant centre back – with Lindergaard once again a helpless spectator.
Still the action came. Robson-Kanu was in superb form, jinking past Patrice Evra before cutting back and whipping in a stinging cross that had to be palmed away by Lindergaard – before Rafael was booked for hauling down McAnuff on the opposite flank.
But, yet again, United came back. A classy back-flick from Young wrong footed the Royals defence, allowing Anderson to cross for Rooney – who slotted home his second of the game.
The fourth was imminent. Another deft flick, this time from Rooney himself – released Van Persie, who broke the offside trap to stoke past Federici. It was a tight call as to whether the Dutchman had strayed past the last man, but either way McDermott’s men faced another uphill battle.
Not long later it was almost five. Wing wizardry from Young sent a ball curving to the far post, Federici did really well to block Rooney’s initial header before Mariappa produced an astonishing goalline clearance to deny Van Persie’s follow up. Replay’s showed the ball may have just crept over the line before Reading’s number 6 punted away, but equally Smalling looked to have strayed offside as he came in at the far post.
At the opposite end a neat spin and pass by Le Fondre gave Robson-Kanu more space on the left, but again the midfielder’s shot was somehow bundled away from danger by United’s ‘keeper.
3-4 it was at the break – and 15 minutes was arguably not enough time to soak in an enthralling opening half.
The first half had been only the third in Premier League history to boast seven goals or more – and McAnuff started the second looking to continue in the same vein, breaking from the centre of midfielder before firing over with his left foot from 25 yards.
There were shouts for a penalty too, after Leigertwood was clipped as he looked to bring the ball down inside the area – however on this occasion referee Mark Halsey waved away any chance of a spot kick.
The visitors weren’t curbing their attacking instincts either, as substitute Phil Jones marauded down the left before cutting back to Van Persie, who shanked over.
Worse was to come from the normally prolific Dutchman, as he robbed Federici of possession in the six yard box, but stumbling slightly – could only crash over the bar with an open goal at his mercy.
Jay Tabb even wanted to get in on the goalscoring action, as the midfielder went looking for his first goal in a Reading shirt, clipping over the bar from long range after a driving run – before McAnuff again tested Lindergaard from the left of the box.
Another United replacement, Chris Smalling, looked to put the game beyond doubt in the final three minutes – but crashed high over Federici’s bar from an acute angle.
There was some late pressure from the home side – and Morrison strained every sinew in trying to get a head on Shorey’s stoppage time corner, but it was in vein – as United sealed the win that would put them comfortably top of the Barclays Premier League.