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WhoScored: Zabaleta-Sterling a key battle

Tactics And Analysis 6 hours ago
Read
 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 28, 2007

Fergie 'vindicated' despite comeback by Reading

Sir Alex Ferguson claimed his decision to make mass changes ensured Manchester United survived a mighty FA Cup scare at Reading.

Ferguson retained only three men from the weekend win over Fulham and although he was biting his fingernails at the end, the Scot was rewarded with a 3-2 fifth-round replay triumph which earned his side a quarter-final trip to Middlesbrough.

The scoreline only tells half the story as the Red Devils were forced to survive a sustained bombardment after Gabriel Heinze, Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had given the visitors a seemingly impregnable three-goal lead inside six minutes.

However, Dave Kitson pulled one back before the break and when Leroy Lita grabbed a second eight minutes from time, United were facing huge embarrassment.

They survived, but only after Brynjar Gunnarsson had smashed an injury-time shot against the crossbar, with Ferguson feeling the freshness of his new boys had made the difference.

'We put out a completely fresh team and it was a wise decision,' said Ferguson.

'They pummelled us in the second half. They are a very good team and the best in the league at crossing the ball.

'We had fantastic chances to kill the game but we kept running with the ball and on a pitch like that it just doesn't work,' he said.

'We kept giving them lifeline after lifeline and when they scored a second with six or seven minutes to go anything could have happened.

'In the end, we managed to ride our luck and we have come through a magnificent cup tie.'

For Reading, defeat was heartbreaking, although manager Steve Coppell was able to take solace in the manner of their loss.

'It is not often you say there can be honour in defeat but that is the position we are in,' said Coppell.

'I have to compliment my players. They are all warriors. They didn't lay down and die, they got back up again and fought, which is one of the best qualities to have.'

Throughout his illustrious career as a player and manager, Coppell admitted he had never endured a start as catastrophic as this one.

'It was crash, bang, wallop,' he said.

'I have never been three goals down so quickly before. We have no excuses. It was a really sloppy start.

'I did say before the game we couldn't lose. When I looked at the scoreline at that stage I thought 'we are not going to lose, we are going to get absolutely hammered'.

'It was madness but there was no way we were going to throw away all we have done in the past two seasons in the three minutes, 20 seconds it took them to score those three goals.'