Manchester United cruised into the FA Cup fourth round with a 4-0 win at home to Reading on Saturday. Goals from Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial, and two from Marcus Rashford, made for a very comfortable afternoon for José Mourinho’s men.
United headed into the game expecting a tough contest against the Championship high-fliers, but will have been shocked by quite how poor the Royals were in the first few minutes. The hosts were able to breeze forward at will, and both Rashford and Rooney had gone close to opening the scoring before the latter broke the deadlock in just the seventh minute of action.
It wasn't the most glamorous goal of Rooney's record-equalling 249th for the club, but he certainly didn’t mind. Martial did the lion's share of the work, powering past two Reading defenders before pulling back to Juan Mata on the edge of the box. The Spaniard dug out a low cross which Rooney shook a leg at; his knee proved a sufficient diversion to beat Ali Al-Habsi from close range.
Reading's defensive ineptitude was surprising given Jaap Stam was the man directing proceedings from the opposition dugout, and the ex-United centre-back looked on glumly as the Royals gifted United a second after a quarter-of-an-hour. Martial's simple one-two with Rooney bamboozled the Reading defenders, and the Frenchman curled the ball inside the far post for two.
Up to then things were so simple for United that the game almost had a testimonial character. After the second, however, Reading improved in possession, and enjoyed their first spell of concerted pressure. They went close to pulling one back from a corner after 25 minutes, though Liam Moore’s instinctive prod went wide of Sergio Romero’s post.
After that, a hat-trick of good chances went United's way. The best was Rashford's, though the young forward couldn't convert after rounding Al-Habsi, instead slicing the ball into the side-netting. The upshot was that the game was still just about alive at the interval, albeit very much on life support. The only disappointment for United was the enforced substitution of on-form defender Marcos Rojo, who limped down the tunnel prematurely after another impressive performance.
The start of the second half lacked the excitement of the first, and it took a while for United to create their next chance. It came just short of the hour mark, when Rooney contrived to smack a rebound against Al-Habsi from point-blank range. Reading knew a goal would change the complexion of the game, but Stam’s men struggled to find a way through United’s defence.
It took a while, but eventually their impotence was punished. Rashford took advantage of a fine raking pass from Carrick to charge through on goal, and slot beyond Al-Habsi for three. After an excellent performance, a goal was the least the young striker deserved.
Indeed, Al-Habsi thought Rashford merited a second, and promptly gifted him a brace moments later. The Reading keeper dallied on the ball a touch too long, and swiped desperately at clean air under the striker’s pressure. Rashford nicked it and promptly blasted into the empty net, capping a comfortable afternoon for United.