Friday 27 January 2023

Opposition in profile: Reading

Erik ten Hag's Manchester United evolution continues apace as the Reds face a familiar face in our ninth game in 32 days. 
There was a time when this weekend's opponents were regular divisional rivals, but despite their relegation in 2013, the Royals of Reading need little introduction. This will be our third meeting with the men from Berkshire in the last six years, with all three coming in this competition in M16. We met them in the third round in 2017 (4-0) and at the same stage two seasons later (2-0). 

Reading's fans must be sick of the sight of Old Trafford but will make the 400-mile round trip for this fourth-round encounter hoping to secure only a second-ever win over United. You have to go all the way back to 1927 for their only triumph against a Reds side in turmoil and languishing in the lower reaches of the top flight. It came at the third time of asking in a second replay at Villa Park after 1-1 and 2-2 draws. 

Under the tutelage of former United midfield hardman Paul Ince, Reading currently sit in 14th place in the Championship, having lost 4-0 at struggling Stoke last time out. Ince will have fond memories of the FA Cup having won it twice in his six seasons at United as well as two Premier League titles, the League Cup, the European Cup Winners Cup, and the European Super Cup. 
That would normally be more than enough to earn legendary status at Old Trafford but his two-season stint with Liverpool tarnished his legacy and ensures he is set to receive a lukewarm 'welcome' in the opposition dugout tomorrow night. 
Ince's son Tom has played against us for Huddersfield Town and is likely to do so again for the visitors in this one having missed only two games all season. 

There are other familiar names to look out for in the Reading camp including former Liverpool and Newcastle striker Andy Carroll, ex-West Brom and Saints striker Shane Long - back for a second stint with the Royals - and Newcastle loanee Jeff Hendrick. Junior Hoilett and veteran centre-back Scott Dann also ply their trade for Ince's second-tier mid-tablers. 

Formed 151 years ago in 1871 as the Biscuitmen due to the presence of biscuit makers Huntley and Palmers in the town, they are now known as the Royals due to Reading's close proximity to Windsor Castle.  
Reading's most successful era coincided with the opening of their new ground at Elm Park. Established in the upper echelons of the Southern League with the likes of Southampton, Southend United, Brighton and Gillingham, they won the Division Two title in 1911 and then finished runners-up upon promotion to the First. 

Their next highlight came in the aforementioned Cup run of 1926-27. Having vanquished United en route, they bowed out to eventual winners Cardiff at Molineux in the last four. Local biscuit business Huntley and Palmers made FA Cup-shaped biscuit tins in honour of their home town team - only for them to be shipped to India when they fell at the penultimate hurdle.

For all of our own historic, legendary feats of derring-do, Saturday's opponents boast something we do not - nor likely ever will: an English league points record. The 2005/06 season was an unforgettable one for the Reading Royals: a record-breaking 106 points, 99 goals, a 33-match unbeaten run and promotion before the clocks went back. Upon promotion to the top tier of the English game for the first time ever, their heady upward trajectory continued under the erudite expertise of former Red Steve Coppell. They finished eighth during their debut campaign in the Premier League, flirting with Europe for most of the season, only a point behind UEFA-Cup-bound Bolton. Surely the greatest couple of years in the history of this small, provincial club from a sleepy commuter belt on the outskirts of London.

Another former United boss, Jaap Stam, has come closest to taking the side back to the riches of the Premier League. After a third placed league finish in 2016-17, two dramatic play-off games earned the side a trip to Wembley where they were denied promotion by the pain of penalties at the hands of Huddersfield Town. 

John O'Shea - one of Sir Alex Ferguson's most trusted United lieutenants - ended his career at the age of 38 in 2019 after a season with the Royals and then moved on to the coaching staff at the Madejski.

Saturday's cup tie kicks off at 8pm on Saturday under the lights at Old Trafford.  

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