Premier League - Rooney sends United 15 points clear

Premier League, Old Trafford - Manchester United 1 (Rooney 21), Reading 0.

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Robin van Persie believes deep down Wayne Rooney wants to stay at Manchester United (Reuters)

Manchester United closed in on their 20th domestic title with a lifeless 1-0 win against Reading at Old Trafford.

Wayne Rooney scored the only goal with a massively-deflected first-half shot - assisted by Rio Ferdinand - but it was otherwise a flat performance from the much-changed Champions-elect.

Manchester City's 2-0 defeat at Everton means United go 15 points clear at the top - even if City win all their remaining game, United need only 13 more to clinch the championship.

However, this match will not live long in the memory - simply a case of doing enough against a Reading side well-organised by caretaker boss Eamonn Dolan.

Indeed, the Royals had a strong penalty claim turned down when Nemanja Vidic appeared to push Adrian Mariappa at a corner.

Sir Alex Ferguson again made one of those left-field team selections that only he can get away with.

Regular full-backs Patrice Evra and Rafael, normally immune to squad rotation, were axed along with central midfielders Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, while Ashley Young was given a relatively rare start.

United's results make quibbles about Ferguson's selections virtually redundant, but he does provide more than his share of head-scratchers.

Having seen City lose at Everton earlier on Saturday, United did not start like a side intent on wrapping up the title.

The match ambled along at a languid pace, only briefly enlivened when Young cut in from the left and shot wide.

Danny Welbeck showed the most intent, but let himself down with poor crossing, while Robin van Persie's recent decline in form continued.

Then, from nowhere, Ferdinand loped forward from the back on a long run. He laid the ball off to Rooney whose shot took a huge deflection off Alex Pearce and looped over the helpless Stuart Taylor.

The assist was only Ferdinand's second for United in the Premier League, and came at an appropriate time two days after the 34-year-old's recall to the England side.

United sat back, happy to test Taylor with low-percentage long shots from Rooney and Robin van Persie.

At the other end, Hal Robson-Kanu shot narrowly wide from 25 yards, but David De Gea had nothing to do apart from whack a few goal kicks away.

The second match opened with its most significant moment. As a Reading corner came in, Vidic shoved Mariappa who went down screaming for a penalty, but referee Lee Mason was having none of it.

It was harsh on Reading, though the way United have dug out results this season you suspect they would have found a winner from somewhere even if the penalty had been given.

Thereafter, it was one, long cruise to the finish line for the home side. Robin van Persie's goal drought passed the 400 minute mark, as he failed to beat Taylor with a free-kick before firing an overhead kick over.

Giggs brought a save from Taylor and Rooney fired over, but this no vintage United performance.

It is a cliche for a reason - Manchester United are the kings of winning when playing badly, and that unerring points accumulation has taken them to the brink of more silverware.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United): Hardly a performance for the ages from any United players, but Ferdinand's first assist for six years gets him the nod.

PLAYER RATINGS

MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 6; Smalling 6, Ferdinand 7, Vidic 7, Buttner 6, Anderson 6, Giggs 7, Young 6, Welbeck 7; Rooney 7, Van Persie 6. Subs: Carrick 7, Kagawa N/A.

READING: Taylor 7, Shorey 7, Kelly 6, Pearce 6, Mariappa 7, Karacan 7, Leigertwood 6, McAnuff 7, McCleary 6, Robson-Kanu 7, Hunt 6. Subs: Morrison N/A, Blackman 6, Le Fondre 7.

MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS

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