Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became the first Manchester United manager to win his first five games in charge with a comfortable victory over Reading in the FA Cup third round on Saturday afternoon.
A controversial penalty was fired home by Juan Mata, before Romelu Lukaku wrapped up another happy afternoon for the Norwegian before half-time.
United came into this contest as comfortable favourites but really struggled to impose any quality into the game early on and initially looked second best to their Championship opposition.
United have started the game much like Norwich city centre. Very pedestrian— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) January 5, 2019
Mata then stepped up to take the penalty and expertly slotted the ball past Anssi Jaakkola to give his side an undeserved lead. United continued to struggle in the first half before Romelu Lukaku hit Reading with a sucker-punch right before the break.
Reading are still on 61% possession for the match. They’re going out, but they’ve given a great account of themselves this afternoon, a performance that’s sure to give them a boost in their Championship relegation battle.#MUNvREA— Sachin Padwal (@sachin140778) January 5, 2019
John Swift was caught in possession for Reading, setting Alexis Sanchez on his way who made no mistake with his incisive forward ball, finding Lukaku who powered his finish into the back of the net to give United a comfortable lead at halftime.
Reading introduced some attacking changes for the second half and continued to test United who looked increasingly likely to let the lead slip. But other than a few promising opportunities, it came to nothing for the visitors.
United's afternoon was summed up late on as Marcus Rashford rounded the keeper to wrap up the points but instead lost his footing a slid out of play with the ball. It was a low-quality encounter in the end but United got the job done.
Key Talking Point
Solskjaer put faith in his second string for this clash and in truth, they struggled against a side facing relegation from the Championship. Reading dominated possession in the first half with only one shot on target separating the two sides' attacking efforts.
Fortunately, the scoreline sparred United's blushes converting two of their three efforts on goal. The second half was if anything more of an understatement for United as Reading pushed for a way back into the game. The play was slow and sloppy as the Red Devils just about saw their way into the fourth round thanks to some equally poor play in the final third from their opposition.
It reflects a concern for many United fans that their overall strength of the squad is not good enough despite a huge spend in recent transfer markets. It was the first team players that made the difference for United today and the club may need want to look into their academy if they want to return to the glory days.
Starting XI: Romero (7), Dalot (6), Darmain (5), Jones (7), Young (6), McTominay (5), Pereira (5), Fred (7), Mata (7), Lukaku (8)*, Sanchez (7)
Substitutes: Chong (6), Fellaini (6), Rashford (6)
STAR MAN - Romelu Lukaku returned to the starting line-up after being reduced to a cameo role under the new boss. The Belgian made the most of his starring role with a traditional battering ram approach causing problems for Reading. It was a game of few chances for the United frontline but Lukaku took the only real one he got, making the game comfortable for his side and proving his clinical nature once again.
WORST PERFORMER - Andreas Pereira is a man with a big future supposedly at Manchester United but he was non-existent when called upon today. Reading dominated possession for the majority of the game and largely ran straight through United's midfield. Pereira who was at the heart of that midfield three really struggled to make his presence known and has his defence to thank for covering.
Maybe Pereira is not as special as United fans thought he was #MUNvREA— Accra By Night✨ (@FiddyXL) January 5, 2019
Key Talking Point
Reading will consider themselves unlucky in this fixture after controlling the play for large spells. The Royals produced some good attacking football at times, with manager Jose Gomes keeping the pressure on with attacking changes in the second half as his side chased the game.
They may even consider themselves unlucky for the controversial ruling of the penalty that put them behind in this game and certainly didn't look like a team in the position that they are in the league.
Unfortunately, the lack of quality and cutting edge was also abundant with Reading failing to trouble Sergio Romero. Gomes' side kept the ball well but largely to no avail and it was two mistakes that led to the goals which probably reflects the larger problems for Reading.
Starting XI: Jaakkola (6), Richards (5), Moore (6), Ilori (6), Yiadom (7), Kelly (7), Rinomhota (7) Mcleary (7), Swift (7), Harriott (8), Loader (8)
Substitutes: Aluko (8)*, Barrow (6), Meite (6)
STAR MAN - Sone Aluko was the first of the attacking changes for Reading and he did make a real difference for his side. Adding that little bit of spark and creativity to the Royals attack it gave the United defence something to think about and allowed the visitors to carve out some much more promising attacking positions in the second half.
WORST PERFORMER - Reading began this contest with some real purpose and looked capable of grabbing a confidence-boosting result to help with their league struggles this year. Omar Richards all but extinguished that dream for the visitors when he clumsily brought down Mata in the box.
A little more composure from the full-back and he can read the offside in that move, in
Marge, it happened again pic.twitter.com/l3ugCLtTDc— Scott Saunders (@_scottsaunders) January 5, 2019
Reading who currently sit five points adrift of safety in the Championship face a tough couple of fixtures against promotion-chasing East Midland rivals with the visit of Nottingham Forest followed by a trip to Derby.