Reading and Manchester United's Premier League encounter in December was aptly described by Danny Baker as "an exploding clown's car of a game". All seven goals were scored in the first 34 minutes with a defensive withdrawal thrown in for good measure. However it wasn't the first mad night at the Madejski Stadium between the two clubs.
Five-and-a-half-years earlier, United visited Reading for their fifth-round FA Cup replay. A match sandwiched in between two critical league fixtures at Fulham and Liverpool and with the return leg in the Champions League against Lille a week away, Sir Alex Ferguson tinkered. And boy, did he.
Eight changes were made as only Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown remained in the starting XI while Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney sat on the bench with Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville not even in the matchday squad. Neville would later reveal he was serving a two-match suspension at Ferguson's behest after he told his manager to "F**k off" in Lille the previous week.
RedIssue fanzine later described United's midfield - Park, O'Shea, Fletcher and Richardson - as United's "Primark" quartet. But what followed was an extraordinary blitzkrieg which harked back to United's dismantling of Norwich City at Carrow Road in 1993. Only Giggs, Kanchelskis and Cantona didn't do it in six minutes.
After only two minutes Gabriel Heinze's shot squirmed under the body of Adam Federeci to give United the lead. Ironically, it was the Australian who made the replay possible after an outstanding display at Old Trafford 10 days previously, and his father had travelled from Oz to watch his son for the first time. His timing was as bad as United's was good.
Dave Kitson loses Rio Ferdinand but fails to beat Edwin van der Sar
Two minutes later Louis Saha expertly controlled a raking pass from Ferdinand before lashing the ball past Federeci to double the Reds' advantage. And then another two minutes later Ole Gunnar Solskjaer beat the offside trap from Kieran Richardson's precise pass and majestically curved the ball in for a 3-0 scoreline after six minutes.
"It was obviously the worst start possible," opined Reading manager Steve Coppell. "The best start I've ever seen them make," cooed Ferguson.
Saha was denied making it four as Reading's back three toiled before Coppell reverted to 4-4-2 and Dave Kitson reduced the deficit after 23 minutes.
If the first six minutes was the best of United the second-half was close to their worst. Reading began to dominate the "Primark" quartet as United drifted too deep before Leroy Lita made it 2-3 with six minutes remaining. With just a few seconds remaining, Brynjar Gunnarsson almost took the tie into extra-time when his 20-yarder beat Van der Sar and smacked the crossbar to end a breathless evening.
More:Manchester United Reading Preview Manchester United Reading 2-3 Manchester United 2007 UK Sport UK Football
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