Three quick-fire second-half goals allowed Manchester United to ease to a 3-1 win over Championship side Reading in Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round tie at Old Trafford.
After a frustrating first half, Casemiro struck twice in four minutes before the hour mark to put United on the path to victory. Substitute Fred then flicked in a delightful third in the 66th minute to finish off a Reading side that a minute earlier had been reduced to 10 men when former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll picked up a second yellow card.
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Substitute Amadou Salif Mbengue did respond with a goal for Reading in the 72nd minute to give their traveling fans and manager Paul Ince, returning to the club he won two Premier League titles with as a player, something to celebrate but it was never going to be more than a consolation.
It was Casemiro who was the star of the show and the former Real Madrid midfielder received a standing ovation after being substituted late on.
“He’s done what he was brought in to do, He’s a phenomenal player. You don’t win what he’s won without being a top player,” United captain Harry Maguire said.
“He’s improved the team, the morale and the performance.”
United manager Erik ten Hag again fielded a strong cup lineup, three days after doing the same in a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal. Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro were again all named in the startling lineup.
That looked ominous for a visiting Reading team lying in the bottom half of the Championship, even if they had Premier League experience in the likes of Carroll, Jeff Hendrick and Junior Hoilett.
Yet Reading were able to keep the hosts at bay in the opening 45 minutes.
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Against a team happy to sit compact behind the ball, United had 14 shots in the first half, with Antony and Wout Weghorst among those going close, but failed to break the deadlock.
They thought they had the opening goal 35 minutes in only for a VAR check to rule it offside. Rashford, seeking a club-record 10th successive home game with a goal, headed the ball over the line from close range but Weghorst was deemed to be offside in the buildup after a Reading touch on the ball before reaching him was deemed not to be a deliberate play.
Just before the half-time interval United were given a scare at the other end. Tyrell Malacia failed to realize Hoilett was behind him as he chested down a cross at the back post, allowing the Canada international to sneak in and get a shot at goal that required a smart reaction save from David de Gea.
Perhaps spurred on by that escape or some strong words from Ten Hag at the interval, United took just nine minutes into the second half to finally get on the scoresheet. The goal was an all-Brazilian affair with Antony supplying a perfectly weighted through ball and Casemiro finishing with a delicate chip over the out-rushing Joe Lumley in the Reading goal.
Four minutes later the game was effectively ended as a contest. High on confidence, Casemiro tried his luck from distance with a shot that got the slightest of deflections off defender Thomas Holmes to beat an unsighted Lumley.
The frustration soon got the better of Carroll as he lunged in late on Casemiro to earn a second yellow card that could leave little room for complaint and allowed the Old Trafford faithful to cheer the sight of a former Liverpool rival trudging down the tunnel 25 minutes early.
With Reading still reeling from that latest blow, Fred, brought on as Ten Hag rang the changes in the second half, delightfully directed Fernandes’ low cross into the net with a flick behind his back to put the seal on United’s path to the competition’s last 16.