Whilst the performance may have left a little to be desired, the result is what matters. Of course, that adage applies to all competitive sport, but in the case of last night`s FA Cup 5th round match between Manchester United and Reading, it mattered to both teams for different reasons.
Reading wanted a result to bolster their form in the league. They were certainties for the drop at one time, but a run of good results has meant that they could manage to escape relegation if they can continue that form. Unfortunately, last night, despite a valiant effort, they came up short. It merely underlines the fact that there is a limit to what you can do with just hard work and good organisation. In the end, it is class and that exceptional skill that the top players possess, that makes the difference. For United, the moment that Van Persie walked onto the pitch, the game changed. He did not score, but his movement caused all sorts of panic in the Reading defence. It was this which subsequently led to their downfall as United scored two second half goals to clinch the tie.
For Manchester United, this meant that their pursuit of the illustrious `treble` remains intact. That treble of course is the FA Cup, The Premiership Title and The Champions League Cup. When Manchester United became the first club to achieve that in 1999, it was stated that it could never happen again. Now, United are trying to prove them wrong. They already lead the Premiership by a massive 12 points with just 12 matches left and they are halfway to getting into the last eight of the Champions League. With last night`s victory, they now are only two matches away from a Wembley FA Cup final.
On a night which saw Phil Jones leave the field yet again, with an ankle injury, it fell to Nani to fill the gap. He has been linked with a move away from United at the end of the season due to some poor performances and a bitter contract dispute. Whatever may be going on in the background, he was inspirational from the outset, making a number of fantastic shots from distance, the best of which rattled the upright.
Eventually he did score and it was a real touch of class, receiving a fast paced ball in the box, he controlled with his left foot and rifled the ball into the corner with his right. Sir Alex admitted after the match that his was a `man of the match` performance and would give him a selection dilemma in the next few games. The second was a real poacher’s goal from none other than Hernandez. How many times does he do it? The ball was crossed at pace towards the near goalpost and Hernandez got to it before the despairing goalkeeper, Federici, who had been in great from all night.
Despite a heroic effort at the end from Reading which saw a consolation goal resulting from a defensive mix up in the United back four, the match was lost. United must wait now until Middlesbrough play Chelsea in their rearranged 5th round tie, to see who they play next at Old Trafford. United may have had to play 21 Premiership clubs out of 23 ties in the FA Cup, but at least they keep getting home draws. Sir Alex will be keen to progress to the semi-finals having been given yet another home tie.
All eyes revert now to the Premiership. United have a run of 5 relatively easy games against sides in the bottom half of the table and it is possible that they could win the title in the match against Manchester City at Old Trafford on 6th April.