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United labour to extend Solskjaer's dream start as first real test looms

Manchester United 2 Reading 0

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Manchester United’s Tahith Chong battles with Reading’s Liam Moore during yesterday’s game. Photo: Oli Scarff / AFP

Manchester United’s Tahith Chong battles with Reading’s Liam Moore during yesterday’s game. Photo: Oli Scarff / AFP

AFP/Getty Images

Manchester United’s Tahith Chong battles with Reading’s Liam Moore during yesterday’s game. Photo: Oli Scarff / AFP

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's dream start continues, this a fifth victory in five games, setting up what will be the first stern test of his interim reign: the trip to Tottenham next Sunday.

The run equals Matt Busby's non-wartime club record, but how United fare against a team 10 points and three places better off in the Premier League will be a litmus test of progress.

With the downing of Reading ensuring safe passage to the FA Cup fourth round, Solskjaer batted away the proposition that they had an easy run of matches.

"When you go to Cardiff in the first game it's never easy," he said. "At home you're expected to beat Bournemouth and Huddersfield, never easy games. There are no easy games in the Premier League. Newcastle away, I thought that was a professional performance.

"It's never easy when you make nine changes but we still won. Spurs away, Wembley, that's a proper test. That will give me more of a reference for where we are against the top boys.

"We're not happy talking about fifth, sixth or fourth in a year or two. The club needs to move on and move up the table."

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Old team-mates John O’Shea, now of Reading, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer greet each other. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Old team-mates John O’Shea, now of Reading, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer greet each other. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

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Towards the end, Alexis Sánchez was forced off with an injury. "Hopefully he will be OK," Solskjaer said. "He was feeling his hamstring."

United were hardly the previous well-oiled machine, as Solskjaer kept only Phil Jones and Juan Mata from the team who started Wednesday's 2-0 win at Newcastle, while Reading manager José Gomes made four changes from the side who lost 4-1 at home to Swansea on Tuesday, drafting in Liam Kelly, Liam Moore, Callum Harriott and Danny Loader.

Solskjaer had conceded that making so many changes was a risk and United's disjointed display demonstrated it.

He said: "I made it hard for the players because it's a team that's never played together. Reading made it really difficult. We never had a kick for the first five minutes, they just kept possession and we weren't cohesive enough in our pressing."

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Reading's Andy Rinomhota (right) and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Reading's Andy Rinomhota (right) and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

PA

An early Scott McTominay header was one warning from United and better was the quick and slick back-to-front sequence that had Sánchez nipping inside from his left channel and shooting only marginally too high to trouble Reading goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola.

United's were soon ahead, courtesy of VAR. As Mata touched the ball off to Fred, Omar Richards took the Spaniard down. Fred found the net and was ruled offside, but after a rather lengthy consultation the video official gave a penalty that Mata dispatched with aplomb.

Sánchez is in the mould of the kind of tricky, goalscoring forward Solskjaer favours. The problem has been a lack of goals and lack of trickery since he signed a year ago.

The latest evidence of the his struggles came as the interval neared. Yet again, he had the ball in a dangerous area but got his feet mixed up, and Jaakkola was able to clear.

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Reading's Andy Rinomhota (left) and Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Reading's Andy Rinomhota (left) and Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

PA

The Chilean showed some backbone by taking the responsibility of trying to create and this time it worked. He threaded a pass into Romelu Lukaku. The centre-forward left Jaakkola a spectator and as the angle narrowed he deftly slotted home.

United goalkeeper Sergio Romero had been forced to save a near-post Andy Yiadom effort moments before Lukaku's strike, and he then had to be sharp to repel a shot by Harriott from near the penalty spot.

United's response came via a Mata attempt that was stymied and later some neat-touch stuff involving Diogo Dalot, McTominay and Fred that turned midfield ball into attack rapidly.

Just after the hour, Solskjaer made a double switch, taking off Fred and Mata for Marouane Fellaini and Tahith Chong, the 19-year-old Dutchman making his debut. He followed this up by removing Sánchez for Marcus Rashford.

"You know the quality he has - so he'll be fine," Solskjaer said of Sánchez. Rashford and Chong tried to increase the pace of United's attacks but were sucked into the general mediocrity on show.

But an FA Cup victory achieved when below par is always welcome, while Gomes now returns to trying to stave off relegation. The Reading manager was happy with the Championship club's display but would like to sign "five, six players" in the transfer window.

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