Nani and Javier Hernandez both scored in a three-minute span in the second half Monday as Manchester United finally broke down Reading’s stubborn defense to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals with a 2-1 victory.
United had dominated much of the game at Old Trafford but lacked a cutting edge until Nani broke the deadlock with a clinical finish in the 69th minute. Hernandez headed in the second from Nani’s cross three minutes later to seemingly make the game safe, but Jobi McAnuff pulled one back for reading in the 82nd.
Nani and Hernadez both missed opportunities to extend the lead after that, and Reading never came close to an equalizer until Adam le Fondre’s glancing header from a free kick went wide in injury time.
Still, the last 10 minutes could have been a lot more comfortable for United if the hosts had capitalized on their previous chances.
”We really should have punished them better,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. ”I think when you analyze it we played some great football. We should have scored a lot of goals today. … But I’m really satisfied with the quality of the game.”
United will face either Chelsea or Middlesbrough in the quarterfinals.
Nani was on the bench to start but came on near the end of the first half after Phil Jones limped off after a tough tackle. With Wayne Rooney sidelined by an illness and Robin van Persie also on the bench, Nani was at the heart of most United attacks after that, and hit the post within minutes with a volley from the edge of the area.
The Portuguese winger drew a couple of good saves from goalkeeper Adam Federici with shots from distance as the hosts kept pressing without much success. Ferguson finally felt compelled to bring on Van Persie midway through the second half, but it was Nani who provided the goal.
Antonio Valencia broke into the area from the right and laid the ball off to Nani, who controlled it his left foot before volleying past Federici with his right.
”If I get my opportunity to come on I just want to enjoy the game and help the team. That’s what happened,” Nani said. ”That (goal) changed the game. And I’m so pleased to give one assist to (Hernandez) and help the team.”
The assist came with a perfect cross from the right flank and ”Chicharito” once again showed his poacher’s instinct as he beat his marker to the ball to head into the net.
But United’s defense then lost its focus as it failed to clear a cross into the area, with McAnuff pouncing on the ball and beating an onrushing David de Gea from close range.
Hernandez then forced a save from Federici on a counterattack in the 87th, and Nani volleyed the rebound into the side netting.
While Reading failed to find an equalizer, manager Brian McDermott said he was proud of the performance.
”Fantastic effort by our players, absolutely terrific,” McDermott said. ”To come to a place like this and perform as well as we have, that’s going to be good for us going into the last 12 games of the season.”