Manchester United remain top of the Premier League after beating Reading in a remarkable seven-goal thriller.

United fell behind when Hal Robson-Kanu lashed in but hit back via Anderson's finish and a Wayne Rooney penalty.

Worst defending of the season - Sir Alex Ferguson

The Royals reclaimed the lead when Adam Le Fondre and Sean Morrison both headed in from corners.

The visitors swung the game their way through neat finishes from Rooney and Robin van Persie, who also had a shot that crossed the line not given.

United came into the game knowing a point would be enough to return them to the top of the Premier League table.

Ferguson's men had been boosted by the results of Saturday's earlier games. Manchester City only drew 1-1 at home against Everton, while Chelsea were beaten 3-1 at West Ham.

That the Red Devils extended their lead over their title rivals tells only half the story of a phenomenal game of football.

The Madejski Stadium has already hosted its share of see-saw goalfests this season and provides more questions than answers about the overall quality of this United side.

First-half flurry

This match equalled the record for most first-half goals scored in a Premier League match. The only other games to feature seven goals before the break were Blackburn v Leeds (Sep 1997) and Derby v Bradford (Apr 2000).

The first half alone was an epic, showcasing seven legitimate goals, another wrongly adjudged not to have crossed the line, appalling defending that warranted a pre-half time tactical substitution and the kind of end-to-end football used to justify the Premier League's unofficial reputation as the best league in the world.

Reading may not be taking any points but they deserve their share of the plaudits for a committed contribution to a game from which any reward would have been a bonus in their quest to extend their top-flight stay to a second season.

The most notable examples of defensive frailty came from the title challengers, who fell behind to the first goal for the 14th time this season - when Jonny Evans's poor clearing header allowed Robson-Kanu time and space to lash in from close range - and then conspired to fall behind again midway through the half when identical Nicky Shorey corners were headed home in the box by Le Fondre and Morrison respectively.

Full-back Rafael was taken out of the action to be replaced by Chris Smalling, but in truth any one of the back five could have suffered the Brazilian's fate.

That United were not facing an uphill battle of the sort that endured Arsenal in the Capital One Cup owes purely to their potency at the other end of the field, where they retain the ability to carve teams open seemingly at will.

McDermott proud of Reading players

A slick one-two between Anderson and Ashley Young and a superb near-post finish from the Brazilian, followed by a calmly-converted penalty from Rooney after Jonny Evans was bundled over by Jay Tabb, overturned the Royals' first goal.

And Rooney's neat side-footed goal from a Patrice Evra cross, just before Van Persie's own tidy finish following a flick from his strike-partner, ensured they led at the break.

United should have had a fifth as well prior to the 45th minute when Van Persie's shot from close range crossed the line before being cleared by Shaun Cummings, but the officials ruled otherwise.

After a first half like that, the second was always likely to be a relative disappointment and so it proved with far fewer chances.

Van Persie spurned the best of them when he nipped in to capitalise on a poor piece of control by home keeper Adam Federici but after buying himself a yard to shoot the Dutchman unbelievably put his effort over the bar.

The miss ensured anxious closing stages for United but they demonstrated a resolve they had so sorely lacked earlier in the game to repel Reading's increasingly desperate attacks.

With Chelsea and West Brom both losing on Saturday it means the gap between second and third is now seven points, doing little to quash suggestions that this season is already shaping into a two-horse race between United and City.

Ferguson's side have their noses in front but the flaws inherent in their display at the Madejski means they have a lot of work to do before they can consider themselves favourites.

Reading manager Brian McDermott: "It was a fantastic effort and quality as well. I'm so proud of our players today.

"We know what our agenda is for this season. There is no problem with confidence from our players.

"I think we are becoming people's second team in the Premier League. We want our results to match our performance and hopefully that will come. Hopefully it is good to watch for our fans."

Lineup, Bookings (2) & Substitutions (6)

Reading

  • 01 Federici
  • 03 Shorey
  • 06 Mariappa
  • 15 Morrison
  • 24 Cummings
  • 08 Leigertwood
  • 11 McAnuff (McCleary - 79' )
  • 16 Tabb Booked
  • 19 Robson-Kanu (Hunt - 83' )
  • 09 Le Fondre
  • 33 Roberts (Pogrebnyak - 69' )

Substitutes

  • 41 Taylor
  • 05 Pearce
  • 23 Harte
  • 20 Guthrie
  • 07 Pogrebnyak
  • 10 Hunt
  • 12 McCleary

Man Utd

  • 13 Lindegaard
  • 02 Rafael Booked (Smalling - 31' )
  • 03 Evra
  • 05 Ferdinand
  • 06 Evans
  • 08 Anderson (Jones - 45' )
  • 16 Carrick
  • 18 Young
  • 24 Fletcher
  • 10 Rooney
  • 20 Van Persie (Welbeck - 74' )

Substitutes

  • 01 De Gea
  • 04 Jones
  • 12 Smalling
  • 11 Giggs
  • 23 Cleverley
  • 14 Hernandez
  • 19 Welbeck
Ref: Halsey
Att: 24,095

Match Stats

Shots

10 10

On target

7 5

Corners

6 1

Fouls

10 12

Live Text Commentary

90:00 +3:13 Full time

Full Time The referee brings the game to a close.

90:00 +2:31

Jay Tabb gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ashley Young. Direct free kick taken by Jonny Evans.

90:00 +1:14

Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Nicky Shorey, Shot by Sean Morrison from inside the six-yard box clear the bar.

90:00 +0:50

Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Nicky Shorey, Sean Morrison takes a shot. Save made by Anders Lindegaard.

90:00 +0:11

Phil Jones gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jay Tabb. Free kick taken by Nicky Shorey. Garath McCleary sends in a cross, Chris Smalling makes a clearance.

88:47

Noel Hunt sends in a cross, blocked by Chris Smalling.

87:19

Shot on goal by Chris Smalling from just inside the area goes over the target.

84:35

Ashley Young challenges Garath McCleary unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Adam Federici.

83:37

Garath McCleary sends in a cross.

82:30 Substitution

Substitution (Reading) makes a substitution, with Noel Hunt coming on for Hal Robson-Kanu.

80:34

Darren Fletcher fouled by Adam Le Fondre, the ref awards a free kick. Michael Carrick takes the direct free kick.

78:18

Ashley Young restarts play with the free kick.

78:18 Substitution

Substitution Garath McCleary is brought on as a substitute for Jobi McAnuff.

78:18 Booking

Booking Jay Tabb is booked.

78:08

Foul by Jay Tabb on Ashley Young, free kick awarded.

77:53

A cross is delivered by Jobi McAnuff, save by Anders Lindegaard.

75:33

Danny Welbeck concedes a free kick for a foul on Adrian Mariappa. Jay Tabb takes the direct free kick.

74:30

Effort on goal by Jay Tabb from outside the penalty box goes harmlessly over the bar.

73:17 Substitution

Substitution Danny Welbeck is brought on as a substitute for Robin van Persie.

73:03

Shot from outside the box by Ashley Young goes wide right of the target.

71:46

Foul by Jonny Evans on Pavel Pogrebnyak, free kick awarded. Free kick crossed left-footed by Nicky Shorey, clearance by Rio Ferdinand.

68:10 Substitution

Substitution Jason Roberts goes off and Pavel Pogrebnyak comes on.

66:10

Robin van Persie produces a left-footed shot from close in which goes wide of the left-hand upright.

64:50

Robin van Persie produces a left-footed shot from deep inside the penalty box which goes wide of the left-hand upright.

64:15

Hal Robson-Kanu sends in a cross, Jonny Evans manages to make a clearance.

63:14

Patrice Evra is caught offside. Adam Federici takes the free kick.

63:05

A cross is delivered by Patrice Evra.

61:33

Foul by Robin van Persie on Adrian Mariappa, free kick awarded. Nicky Shorey restarts play with the free kick.

61:13

Jason Roberts concedes a free kick for a foul on Jonny Evans. Anders Lindegaard takes the free kick.

60:45

The ball is delivered by Nicky Shorey, clearance made by Jonny Evans.

60:03

Phil Jones delivers the ball, clearance made by Sean Morrison.

57:44

Hal Robson-Kanu produces a cross.

56:16

Adam Le Fondre takes a shot. Save by Anders Lindegaard.

55:36

Inswinging corner taken by Jobi McAnuff, clearance made by Phil Jones.

55:02

Corner taken left-footed by Nicky Shorey, Anders Lindegaard makes a save.

54:53

The ball is swung over by Jason Roberts, Chris Smalling manages to make a clearance.

54:43

Centre by Nicky Shorey, Darren Fletcher manages to make a clearance.

54:33

Centre by Jason Roberts.

53:42

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Michael Carrick by Jay Tabb. Wayne Rooney delivers the ball from the free kick right-footed from left wing, clearance by Nicky Shorey.

51:31

The ball is crossed by Phil Jones, Sean Morrison manages to make a clearance.

50:43

The ball is sent over by Jobi McAnuff, save made by Anders Lindegaard.

49:56

The ball is delivered by Adam Le Fondre, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance.

48:26

The ball is crossed by Robin van Persie, Sean Morrison manages to make a clearance.

47:23

Effort from outside the penalty box by Jobi McAnuff goes wide left of the goal.

45:01

The game restarts for the second half.

45:00 +3:04 Half time

Half Time The players leave the pitch at half time.

45:00 +2:17

Nicky Shorey produces a cross.

45:00 +0:31

Mikele Leigertwood takes a shot. Darren Fletcher gets a block in.

45:00 +0:18

Jonny Evans gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jason Roberts. Direct free kick taken by Nicky Shorey.

44:23

Free kick taken by Jonny Evans.

44:23 Substitution

Substitution Phil Jones comes on in place of Oliveira Anderson.

44:23

Foul by Jason Roberts on Ashley Young, free kick awarded.

43:24

The ball is swung over by Hal Robson-Kanu, save made by Anders Lindegaard.

42:09

Free kick awarded for a foul by Mikele Leigertwood on Robin van Persie. Jonny Evans takes the direct free kick.

41:43

The ball is swung over by Jobi McAnuff, Patrice Evra makes a clearance.

40:54

The ball is sent over by Ashley Young, clearance made by Jay Tabb.

40:02

Wayne Rooney produces a cross, clearance by Adrian Mariappa.

39:33

The ball is delivered by Nicky Shorey, Darren Fletcher makes a clearance.

38:56

The ball is swung over by Ashley Young, Chris Smalling takes a shot. Blocked by Adam Federici. Robin van Persie takes a shot. Blocked by Sean Morrison.

36:23

The referee blows for offside. Free kick taken by Adam Federici.

34:58

Patrice Evra gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Hal Robson-Kanu. Strike on goal comes in from Nicky Shorey from the free kick, comfortable save by Anders Lindegaard.

33:50

Assist by Wayne Rooney.

33:50 Goal scored

Goal! - Robin van Persie - Reading 3 - 4 Man Utd Robin van Persie gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Reading 3-4 Man Utd.

32:12

A cross is delivered by Hal Robson-Kanu, clearance made by Chris Smalling.

30:43 Substitution

Substitution Rafael Da Silva leaves the field to be replaced by Chris Smalling.

29:20

Patrice Evra provided the assist for the goal.

29:20 Goal scored

Goal! - Wayne Rooney - Reading 3 - 3 Man Utd A goal is scored by Wayne Rooney from inside the penalty box low into the middle of the goal. Reading 3-3 Man Utd.

29:17

Patrice Evra sends in a cross,

28:26

The ball is crossed by Ashley Young, clearance made by Sean Morrison.

27:10

The free kick is delivered left-footed by Nicky Shorey from left wing.

27:10 Booking

Booking Rafael Da Silva goes into the book.

27:07

Rafael Da Silva concedes a free kick for a foul on Jobi McAnuff.

26:40

Hal Robson-Kanu produces a cross, Anders Lindegaard makes a save.

25:17

Foul by Hal Robson-Kanu on Ashley Young, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Michael Carrick.

24:47

Jobi McAnuff fouled by Darren Fletcher, the ref awards a free kick. Nicky Shorey takes the direct free kick.

23:46

Unfair challenge on Darren Fletcher by Jason Roberts results in a free kick. Rio Ferdinand takes the free kick.

22:48

Nicky Shorey provided the assist for the goal.

22:48 Goal scored

Goal! - Sean Morrison - Reading 3 - 2 Man Utd Sean Morrison scores a headed goal from close in. Reading 3-2 Man Utd.

21:40

Corner taken left-footed by Nicky Shorey,

21:30

The ball is sent over by Hal Robson-Kanu, Jonny Evans makes a clearance.

21:18

The ball is delivered by Jay Tabb, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand.

21:09

Hal Robson-Kanu crosses the ball, clearance made by Robin van Persie.

20:05

Free kick awarded for a foul by Rafael Da Silva on Jobi McAnuff. Free kick crossed by Jobi McAnuff, Jonny Evans makes a clearance.

18:43

The assist for the goal came from Nicky Shorey.

18:43 Goal scored

Goal! - Adam Le Fondre - Reading 2 - 2 Man Utd Adam Le Fondre scores a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Reading 2-2 Man Utd.

18:09

Nicky Shorey takes the inswinging corner,

18:00

Hal Robson-Kanu sends in a cross, clearance made by Patrice Evra.

15:42

Jonny Evans provided the assist for the goal.

15:42 Goal scored

Goal! - Wayne Rooney - Reading 1 - 2 Man Utd Wayne Rooney scores a placed penalty. Reading 1-2 Man Utd.

15:01

Jay Tabb concedes a Penalty for a foul on Jonny Evans.

14:39

Corner from left by-line taken by Wayne Rooney.

14:24

Ashley Young crosses the ball, Shaun Cummings manages to make a clearance.

12:47

The assist for the goal came from Ashley Young.

12:47 Goal scored

Goal! - Oliveira Anderson - Reading 1 - 1 Man Utd Goal scored by Oliveira Anderson from the edge of the penalty area to the top left corner of the goal. Reading 1-1 Man Utd.

12:16

Hal Robson-Kanu produces a cross, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand.

11:22

A cross is delivered by Adam Le Fondre, save by Anders Lindegaard.

10:21

Jason Roberts fouled by Rafael Da Silva, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Nicky Shorey.

10:08

Centre by Wayne Rooney, clearance by Adrian Mariappa.

9:28

The ball is swung over by Patrice Evra, clearance made by Adrian Mariappa.

7:49

The assist for the goal came from Jobi McAnuff.

7:49 Goal scored

Goal! - Hal Robson-Kanu - Reading 1 - 0 Man Utd Hal Robson-Kanu gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the area to the top left corner of the goal. Reading 1-0 Man Utd.

7:44

The ball is swung over by Jobi McAnuff, Jonny Evans manages to make a clearance.

4:53

Oliveira Anderson sends in a cross.

3:51

Ashley Young has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the right of the goal.

2:29

The ball is delivered by Ashley Young, Adam Federici makes a comfortable save.

1:37

The ball is crossed by Shaun Cummings, clearance by Darren Fletcher.

0:46

Darren Fletcher concedes a free kick for a foul on Jay Tabb. Free kick crossed left-footed by Nicky Shorey from left wing, clearance by Rafael Da Silva.

0:00

The game begins.

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