United refuse to let up in relentless quest for vengeance
Manchester Utd 1 Reading 0
It was on the journey back from Sunderland last May, when Manchester United had relinquished the Premier League title to Manchester City in such painful fashion, that Alex Ferguson sought out players individually to urge them to harness their devastation and put it to good use in the future.
As he button-holed his players on the team bus, the message was clear – never allow yourselves to be in this position again.
The prospect of United once again allowing a commanding lead to slip in order for City to pull off another final-day title triumph this season appears remote with Ferguson's team stretching their advantage to 15 points following a mundane victory against Reading, courtesy of Wayne Rooney's deflected first-half goal.
The abject nature of City's defeat at Everton suggests that, even if United do collapse again, Roberto Mancini's team will not be in a position to capitalise as they did 12 months ago, but there is a sense within Old Trafford that the knife is being applied to City's throat and mercy is not on the agenda.
Few public utterances from United this season have come without a nod to what happened last May. It is as though Ferguson and his players are on a crusade to avenge City's success as emphatically, and brutally, as possible.
United cannot secure the title by defeating City at Old Trafford in three weeks' time, but they could move 18 points clear of the champions, or even 21 with seven games to play if City lose at home to Newcastle on March 30, so Ferguson's players can certainly scent blood.
There is also the challenge of winning the Premier League by a record margin and eclipsing the United team of 1999-2000, who ended the season on 91 points, 18 clear of second-placed Arsenal. So rather than focus simply on getting the job done, United are determined to keep their foot down for as long as possible.
With Reading owner Anton Zingarevich sacking manager Brian McDermott five days before the trip to Old Trafford, United had to overcome a team who were playing with a sense of injustice following the dismissal of the man who had guided the club back into the Premier League last season.
So, while Rooney's 21st-minute goal, made by Rio Ferdinand's adventurous burst forward, gave United a platform to record a comfortable victory, the reality proved somewhat different.
Hal Robson-Kanu went close to equalising for Reading with a curling shot from 20 yards and the visitors enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the second half as United made heavy weather of it.
Rooney went close to a second and Robin van Persie had a couple of near misses, but Reading – on 23 points with bottom club Queens Park Rangers – hardly were pummelled into submission.
Caretaker manager Eamonn Dolan – a former Ireland youths international and a twin brother of Pat – who spent yesterday in his more accustomed role as academy manager, confirmed afterwards that he does not want the job on a permanent basis.
That's just as well as the club's ambitious owner will be looking for bigger fish to interview this week, with former England manager Glenn Hoddle believed to be high on his list. (© Daily Telegraph, London)