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Wayne Rooney's 11th Barclays Premier League goal of the season was enough to propel Manchester United 15 points clear with just nine games remaining in the Barclays Premier League title race. Rooney's deflected first-half effort saw off a dogged Reading outfit, who worked hard but could not fashion an equaliser.
Reading’s hopes of avoiding relegation were hit as they slid seven points adrift of safety with eight matches remaining.
Thirteen points will clinch a record 13th Barclays Premier League title, and 20th overall, for United and, given one of their remaining games is against nearest challengers Manchester City, they might not even need that.
Rio Ferdinand rolled back the years to turn in a marvellous performance, which included claiming the assist for Rooney's winner. He created United's first chance with an elegant crossfield pass to Ashley Young, which the winger controlled on the edge of the area before drilling a cross-shot just beyond Robin van Persie.
Ferdinand's next incursion was the crucial one. Nipping in to intercept Garath McCleary's pass, Ferdinand advanced into the open space and nipped round Mikele Leigertwood before feeding Rooney just to his left. The striker took aim and once his shot flicked off Alex Pearce, Reading goalkeeper Stuart Taylor had no chance of keeping it out.
Either side of Rooney's goal, Danny Welbeck went close on a couple of occasions and Van Persie tried his luck from 20 yards, but the Dutchman has now scored once in his last 10 games.
After Brian McDermott's exit in the week from the post as Reading manager, Eamonn Dolan became the 15th manager, including caretakers, to face the Red Devils in their first Premier League game in charge.
Most have lost. Dolan seemed to have settled on a policy of damage limitation despite Reading's position becoming even more perilous due to earlier triumphs for Southampton and Aston Villa. Only once did the visitors truly threaten before the break, when Hal Robson-Kanu let fly with a shot David de Gea would not have reached if it had been on target.
Welbeck and Young went close either side of a wild effort from Van Persie that flew out from a throw-in. A well-struck free-kick from the Dutchman was on target but Taylor kept it out.
Rooney fired over from long range as the hosts gave Reading enough hope to believe an equaliser was possible, but it did not come.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "Before the game, we always thought that winning was the important thing today. It wasn't a great performance but where we are now is not down to today, but the last six months. The team has shown great consistency and played a lot of great football. Our goal difference is big over City now - 13 goals. It's a great position to be in, but the only thing we can do is win our next game.
"You don't get points and medals for being complacent and we won't be. The players are conscious of the importance of the games now and that concentration, which has improved, has helped us do that [in terms of keeping clean sheets].”
Reading caretaker manager Eamonn Dolan: "We put in a very good performance, the players gave everything as they always have done, but it just didn't go our way. Our boys really gave a good account of themselves and that's what Reading Football Club is about. We worked very hard for four days on the best way we felt would be to get a result. With a bit of luck, we could have got a draw. We made them work really, really hard for the win.
“We've got eight games to go, and it looks tough at the moment. But we can do it. We've targeted the games we can win, and if we win them we'll stay in the league.”
|30 Mar 2013||v Sunderland (A)|
|08 Apr 2013||v Man City (H)|
|14 Apr 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|17 Apr 2013||v West Ham (A)|
|22 Apr 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|
|28 Apr 2013||v Arsenal (A)|