Reading 3 Manchester United 4.
Stoke City have become the benchmark for a team attempting to make the not inconsiderable leap from Championship high flier to Premiership survivour. A combination of defensive resilience and maximizing scoring opportunities, especially from set plays are two of the founding principles of Pulis ball and while there was evidence on Saturday night that Reading have embraced the second, they were sadly lacking in the former.
1-0, Robson-Kanu, 8'
1-1, Anderson, 13'
1-2, Rooney (pen), 16'
2-2, Fondre, 19'
3-2, Morrison, 23'
3-3, Rooney, 30'
3-4, v Persie, 34'
Attempting to outscore Premiership opponents, especially the very best is rarely a profitable approach for EPL newcomers, the more goals there are in a game then the more likely it is that the better team will score the lions share. Reading's matches were averaging three goals per game prior to the visit of Manchester United on Saturday evening, above the league average and well in excess of Stoke's recent survival years back in the top flight. Stoke matches have averaged a low of 2.2 and a high of 2.4 goals per game since their return to the Premiership and are currently averaging below two goals so far in 2012/13. If Premiership strugglers are going to upset the very best it's more likely to occur in a low scoring game. Of the 50 defeats suffered by United to teams outside the rest of the big four, half have been single goal defeats.
Entertaining as the open spectacle was, an ultimate United win was hardly a surprise. Only briefly, when they led 3-2 on the half hour did The Royals claim favouritism in the match and a United win would have been even more assured if v Persie's "fifth" goal had stood.
The first half did illustrate the potency of corner kicks , as described here, especially when the ball is delivered to the correct areas and attackers work hard at freeing themselves from defensive attention. Reading's second and third goals were text book examples of the art of scoring from a set piece.
The seven goal, first half scoring spree was undoubtedly unusual, even for two sides whose matches are likely to contain more than the average number goals this season. One such half of football per hundred Premiership seasons would still be an optimistic expected rate for a 3-4 half time scoreline. Inevitably, pundits were predicting more of the same in the second period, but pregame estimated scoring rates are more often a better predictor of what may occur than is a single 45 minutes of action. Viewers were primed for the Premiership total goals record of eleven for one match to be threatened, if not breached, but no more scores were forthcoming.
A goalless second period was around a 20% chance and it was an 80% chance that there would be no more than two goals scored in the last 45 minutes. The chances of Reading and Manchester United combining to provide the five or more additional goals required to breach the single game record could be measured at below 2%.