A goal from Wayne Rooney helped Manchester United edge a step closer to the Premier League title with a stuttering victory over managerless Reading.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side took full advantage of Manchester City's defeat at Everton to open up a 15-point gap at the top of the table with only nine games remaining.
But it was a far from convincing performance from a much-changed United side, which failed to overwhelm Reading, led by caretaker boss Eamonn Dolan.
Rooney goal rush
- Wayne Rooney has scored seven goals in eight games at Old Trafford in 2013
- Rooney has been involved in 21 goals in 21 Premier League appearances this season (scoring 12, assisting nine)
Rooney's first half-strike deflected in after a surging Rio Ferdinand run, while Ashley Young also curled a shot inches wide.
Reading almost equalised through Hal Robson-Kanu's shot and had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Nemanja Vidic pushed Adrian Mariappa after the interval.
With United increasing their advantage over City by three points, though, Ferguson will care little and his side now only need to earn another 13 points to guarantee their 13th Premier League crown.
That total could well be lower, since it assumes Roberto Mancini's men will take maximum points from their nine remaining fixtures.
Reading remain second from bottom and are still seven points from safety after dismissing previous manager Brian McDermott before their trip to Old Trafford.
But there was plenty of encouragement for the hard-working Royals, who hope to announce McDermott's successor before they return to action at Arsenal on 30 March, following the international break.
Rio Ferdinand provided his first Premier League assist since September 2007 (versus Birmingham City; 1-0)
Source: Opta Stats
Reading were perhaps aided by a disjointed United, who made eight changes to the side that drew with Chelsea in the FA Cup last week.
But Ferdinand, one of three players to remain, highlighted his continuing value following his recall to the England set-up this week.
Roy Hodgson's decision may have surprised Ferguson, but the 34-year-old defender was accomplished in defence and pinged a lovely cross-field pass to Young, who fizzed a shot wide, before setting up Rooney's goal.
Ferdinand was allowed to surge forward in the 21st minute, bisecting the Reading midfield, before laying off to Rooney, whose shot was deflected in via Alex Pearce.
- Reading are on the longest current run of consecutive defeats (five games) and have the longest overall run of losses in the Premier League this season (seven games)
Source: Opta Stats
It was harsh on Reading keeper Stuart Taylor, who made good saves from Rooney and Danny Welbeck, and the Royals spent the rest of the first period in relative comfort as United looked happy to sit on their lead.
Indeed, it was the visitors who came closest to scoring next when Robson-Kanu's shot went inches wide of David De Gea's post after Garath McCleary cut in from the left.
Dolan, who was taking charge of his first game in league football following a spell at Exeter when they were a non-league side, furiously guided his team from the touchline as they searched for a response.
And they had a legitimate penalty appeal turned by referee Lee Mason just after the break when Vidic shoved Mariappa.
At the other end, Robin van Persie, who had only scored one goal in his last nine games coming into this contest, stung Taylor's hands with a vicious free-kick and Rooney fired over late on.
But the hosts will be relieved to come through unscathed, although a more incisive team than Reading could well have caused more problems.
Reading caretaker boss Eamonn Dolan: "I'm never proud when we lose but considering it has been a difficult week, and all we had to deal with, I'm pleased with the players and how they have gone about it.
"They were very flat on Tuesday but we knew we had a job to do. I've been speaking to Brian McDermott as a friend all week. And in fact, Brian was the first to text after the match.
"It was a clear penalty [on Adrian Mariappa] but I think the referee thought I was on work experience and 'perfect a little 1-0 loss for Reading' and would be fine.
"I wouldn't have expected that from the referee but what can you do?"
When asked whether he would 'throw his hat into the ring' (regarding becoming permanent manager), Dolan replied: "Brian is a great friend of mine, so that would be, I wouldn't do that, because that would be wrong."
- 01 De Gea
- 05 Ferdinand
- 12 Smalling
- 15 Vidic
- 28 Buttner
- 08 Anderson (Kagawa - 85' )
- 11 Giggs
- 18 Young (Carrick - 74' )
- 10 Rooney
- 19 Welbeck
- 20 Van Persie
- 13 Lindegaard
- 06 Evans
- 07 Valencia
- 16 Carrick
- 25 Powell
- 26 Kagawa
- 14 Hernandez
- 41 Taylor
- 03 Shorey
- 05 Pearce
- 06 Mariappa
- 27 Kelly Booked (Morrison - 88' )
- 04 Karacan
- 08 Leigertwood
- 11 McAnuff
- 19 Robson-Kanu (Le Fondre - 70' )
- 10 Hunt Booked (Blackman - 70' )
- 12 McCleary
- 21 McCarthy
- 02 Gunter
- 15 Morrison
- 23 Harte
- 28 Akpan
- 09 Le Fondre
- 30 Blackman
Live Text Commentary
Full Time The final whistle goes and the game is over.90:00 +4:32
Sean Morrison delivers the ball, Chris Smalling manages to make a clearance.90:00 +3:57
Centre by Nick Blackman, Wayne Rooney manages to make a clearance.90:00 +2:54
Shot from deep inside the area by Robin van Persie clears the bar.90:00 +1:41
Foul by Mikele Leigertwood on Ryan Giggs, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Michael Carrick.90:00 +0:58
Danny Welbeck fouled by Adrian Mariappa, the ref awards a free kick. Ryan Giggs takes the direct free kick.89:00
The assistant referee flags for offside against Nick Blackman. Indirect free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.87:47
Corner taken left-footed by Nicky Shorey, Headed effort from inside the area by Sean Morrison misses to the right of the goal.87:28 Substitution
Substitution Sean Morrison comes on in place of Stephen Kelly.86:49
Effort from the edge of the area by Jobi McAnuff goes wide of the left-hand upright.84:38 Substitution
Substitution Shinji Kagawa replaces Oliveira Anderson.84:09
Wayne Rooney takes a shot from just inside the penalty box which clears the crossbar.83:24
Ryan Giggs takes a short corner.83:00
Ryan Giggs takes a shot. Save made by Stuart Taylor.82:26
Ryan Giggs decides to take a short corner.80:27
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Rio Ferdinand by Nick Blackman. David De Gea restarts play with the free kick.80:10
Nicky Shorey crosses the ball.77:53
Wayne Rooney takes a shot from just outside the penalty area clears the crossbar.75:46
Oliveira Anderson delivers the ball, save by Stuart Taylor.74:59
Nick Blackman gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Nemanja Vidic. Michael Carrick takes the free kick.
A cross is delivered by Chris Smalling.74:26
Michael Carrick fouled by Mikele Leigertwood, the ref awards a free kick. Michael Carrick restarts play with the free kick.73:10 Substitution
Substitution Ashley Young goes off and Michael Carrick comes on.68:28
Free kick taken by David De Gea.68:28 Substitution
Substitution Adam Le Fondre on for Hal Robson-Kanu.68:28 Substitution
Substitution Nick Blackman joins the action as a substitute, replacing Noel Hunt.68:28
Unfair challenge on Ashley Young by Jobi McAnuff results in a free kick.66:17
Oliveira Anderson challenges Jobi McAnuff unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed left-footed by Nicky Shorey from left wing, clearance made by Wayne Rooney.65:25
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Robin van Persie, clearance by Jem Karacan.64:20
Unfair challenge on Alexander Buttner by Hal Robson-Kanu results in a free kick. David De Gea takes the free kick.62:15
Wayne Rooney fouled by Jem Karacan, the ref awards a free kick. Robin van Persie shoots direct from the free kick, fantastic save by Stuart Taylor.60:31
Effort on goal by Ashley Young from just inside the area clears the bar.60:15
Corner taken left-footed by Robin van Persie from the right by-line, clearance by Alex Pearce.59:56
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. Nicky Shorey gets a block in.59:22
Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from just inside the box that misses to the left of the target.58:55
Inswinging corner taken by Wayne Rooney, clearance made by Nicky Shorey.57:31
Alexander Buttner takes a shot. Blocked by Jem Karacan.55:47
The free kick is delivered right-footed by Ashley Young from left channel, Stephen Kelly makes a clearance.55:47 Booking
Booking Stephen Kelly is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.55:42
Free kick awarded for a foul by Stephen Kelly on Ashley Young.54:32
The ball is crossed by Garath McCleary, clearance made by Nemanja Vidic.52:36
Ashley Young is adjudged to have handled the ball. Free kick taken by Stuart Taylor.52:08
Free kick awarded for a foul by Jobi McAnuff on Robin van Persie. Oliveira Anderson restarts play with the free kick.50:35
Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Jobi McAnuff.49:34
Unfair challenge on Hal Robson-Kanu by Alexander Buttner results in a free kick. Free kick crossed left-footed by Nicky Shorey from right wing, Wayne Rooney makes a clearance.48:07
Hal Robson-Kanu delivers the ball.46:51
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Nicky Shorey, clearance by Nemanja Vidic.45:28
Corner taken left-footed by Nicky Shorey from the right by-line, clearance by Nemanja Vidic. Adrian Mariappa takes a shot. Blocked by Wayne Rooney.45:01
The referee blows his whistle to start the second half.45:00 +1:07 Half time
Half Time The referee blows for half time.45:00 +0:01
Wayne Rooney concedes a free kick for a foul on Hal Robson-Kanu. Direct free kick taken by Stuart Taylor.41:46
Rio Ferdinand takes the direct free kick.41:46 Booking
Booking Noel Hunt is cautioned by the ref for unsporting behaviour.41:42
Noel Hunt challenges Chris Smalling unfairly and gives away a free kick.41:05
Jobi McAnuff has an effort at goal from just outside the penalty box which goes wide of the left-hand post.39:25
Wayne Rooney concedes a free kick for a foul on Garath McCleary. Free kick taken by Mikele Leigertwood.36:53
A cross is delivered by Hal Robson-Kanu.35:54
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. Blocked by Alex Pearce.31:48
Hal Robson-Kanu produces a left-footed shot from just outside the box that goes wide left of the target.30:10
Foul by Noel Hunt on Oliveira Anderson, free kick awarded. Oliveira Anderson restarts play with the free kick.29:50
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Comfortable save by Stuart Taylor.29:07
The ball is sent over by Ryan Giggs, save made by Stuart Taylor.27:54
The ball is swung over by Mikele Leigertwood, Alexander Buttner makes a clearance.27:14
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Save by Stuart Taylor.25:19
Shot from just outside the box by Danny Welbeck misses to the left of the goal.20:33
Assist by Rio Ferdinand.20:33 Goal scored
Goal! - Wayne Rooney - Man Utd 1 - 0 Reading Wayne Rooney scores a goal from just outside the penalty box to the top left corner of the goal. Man Utd 1-0 Reading.18:05
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Blocked by Alex Pearce.17:20
Danny Welbeck produces a right-footed shot from just outside the penalty area that goes harmlessly over the target.17:13
Wayne Rooney crosses the ball, clearance by Alex Pearce.15:54
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Alexander Buttner by Hal Robson-Kanu. Direct free kick taken by David De Gea.15:48
The ball is delivered by Garath McCleary, clearance made by Alexander Buttner.14:27
Effort on goal by Ashley Young from deep inside the penalty area misses to the right of the target.12:24
Foul by Mikele Leigertwood on Wayne Rooney, free kick awarded. Wayne Rooney delivers the ball from the free kick right-footed from left wing, clearance by Noel Hunt.8:01
Jem Karacan fouled by Robin van Persie, the ref awards a free kick. Mikele Leigertwood restarts play with the free kick.6:50
Garath McCleary delivers the ball, Rio Ferdinand manages to make a clearance.4:39
Free kick awarded for a foul by Mikele Leigertwood on Danny Welbeck. Ryan Giggs takes the free kick.1:31
Ashley Young delivers the ball.0:12
Unfair challenge on Oliveira Anderson by Noel Hunt results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Chris Smalling.0:00
The match has kicked off.
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