Inevitably, both sides began the second half with greater caution, having left themselves so exposed in a maddeningly open first period. It took until the 64th minute for a real opening to present itself, as Evra embarked on another lung-busting run down the left flank and pulled back for Rooney. The striker opted against shooting from a tight angle, instead finding Fletcher, whose misplaced flick to van Persie heralded the move’s disappointing climax.
Nevertheless, the opening pricked United’s attacking ambitions once more, and within a minute another forward surge, this time from substitute Phil Jones, culminated in van Persie firing over Federici’s near post. The Dutchman then had a glaring opportunity to establish a two-goal lead when he pounced on Federici’s dally, only to blaze wide of an open goal.
That miss left Reading with a glimmer of hope, especially after the haphazard porousness on show in the Reds’ first half defending, but they came no closer to a share of the spoils than when Morrison's downward header was comfortably tipped over by Lindegaard in the first minute of injury-time.
Instead, United’s defensive improvement – with Evans and Ferdinand more imposing and controlled, while Reading’s steady supply of crosses was curtailed – secured a victory which laid bare the good and bad of the Reds’ season to date.