Cristiano Ronaldo News

Monday, January 01, 2007

Report: United 3 Reading 2

0/12/2006 16:52, Report by Ben Hibbs

The Reds survived a late scare against a spirited Reading side to win 3-2 and move six points clear of Chelsea, who slipped up against Fulham on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo was in inspired form once again and his two goals – taking him to 12 in total this term – plus Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first-half header gave United all three points when Jose Mourinho’s men faltered with a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

United had looked comfortable at 3-1 when Sam Sodje was sent off with twenty minutes to go. Sir Alex Ferguson even took off Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney with the victory all but tied up. And, as news filtered through to the fans that Chelsea had drawn, there were joyous scenes inside Old Trafford. But Leroy Lita’s goal in injury time sparked a Reading resurgence and a nervous few moments to end what was an entertaining encounter.

Without the suspended Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic, Sir Alex recalled Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand to his starting line-up, while Gabriel Heinze came in for Patrice Evra and Ronaldo replaced Darren Fletcher.

United made the brighter start, Ronaldo the conjurer of two early opportunities. The first, a left-footed shot from the edge of the box, was blocked by a posse of Reading defenders. Then, cutting in from the right after six minutes, he tested Royals stopper Marcus Hahnemann with a fierce low drive. Whenever the Portuguese winger receives the ball he inspires confidence in his team-mates and instils fear into the opposition defence.

But for all United’s bustling promise in the opening exchanges, Reading proved obstinate opponents. It wasn’t until the half hour mark that United truly threatened the Reading goal again. There was little surprise it was of Ronaldo's doing. From Carrick’s corner, he sent a powerful header goalwards, but Hahnemann was proving a tough obstacle and even when he spilled the Reds winger's attempt, he managed to keep out Solskjaer's rebound.

However, the two United players combined again to finally beat Hahnemann with ten minutes of the first half remaining. Ronaldo, having swapped flanks with Ji-sung Park, shifted the ball from his left onto his right before curling his cross neatly into the path of Solskjaer. The Norwegian stole a yard on Ibrahima Sonko and headed past Hahnemann into the right corner.

Reading had rarely troubled the Reds and a routine free-kick some 35 yards out after a Gaby Heinze foul looked containable at least. Edwin van der Sar came off his line to meet the cross but he couldn’t reach over a group of players and Sonko made up for his slow reactions just four minutes earlier to claim an equaliser on 39 minutes.

At half time Sir Alex replaced Park with Ryan Giggs and United immediately set about regaining the lead. Ronaldo was again lively and almost teed Solskjaer up for another header. Unfortunately the 33-year-old couldn’t get enough purchase on his glancing effort.

Rooney, relatively quiet in the match, sent a shot just over the bar five minutes into the second 45 minutes. Sensing the need to spur the team on chants of ‘United, United’ echoed around the ground. The Reds responded. Ronaldo ran the best part of 40 yards before finding Rooney’s arced run with an outside-of-the-boot pass. The 21-year-old striker turned adroitly away from Graeme Murty and dinked a shot destined for the far corner. Hahnemann again came to Reading’s rescue and tipped the shot over the bar.

Steve Coppell’s men have reached heady heights in the Premiership this season, in part because of their supreme organisation. A five-man Reading defence was withstanding everything United threw at it. It took something special to finally regain the lead; a move comprising speed, precision passing and nimble movement. From the left Giggs found Rooney, who flicked the ball into the path of Solskjaer. The Norwegian beat his marker and struck a shot against the post, but Ronaldo acted quickest and finished off the rebound.

Reading were dealt another blow when substitute Sodje was dismissed for a second bookable offence on 70 minutes – he had barely been on the pitch ten minutes before he was given his marching orders.

United had seemingly secured victory when that man Ronaldo rattled in his sixth goal in three games. Giggs crossed from the right and the Portuguese winger beat Hahnemann with a side-footed volley from six yards.

Giggs and Carrick both went close late on. The game appeared to be meandering towards a safe and secure three points, but when Leroy Lita out-muscled Silvestre and nutmegged van der Sar to make it 3-2, a frantic few minutes of injury-time followed. But the Reds held on and with Chelsea drawing against Fulham, United extended the points gap at the top of the Premiership to six points. The perfect end to 2006.

Team Line-ups

United: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze, Ronaldo (Fletcher, 78), O’Shea, Carrick, Park (Giggs, 46), Rooney (Richardson, 78), Solskjaer.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Saha.

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty (c) (Sodje, 59), Gunnarsson, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Little (Seol, 67), Sidwell, Harper, Lita, Doyle (Hunt, 73).
Subs not used: Oster, Federici.

Attendance: 75,910


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