THIS game won’t be remembered in FA Cup history, but it was a red-letter day for Wayne Rooney.
The Manchester United star needed just seven minutes of this one-sided contest to grab the 249th goal of his United career to equal the longstanding record held by Sir Bobby Charlton, and he was delighted with his landmark.
“It’s a proud moment,” he said. “I’m hugely honoured to play for this club and to be up there in terms of goals with Sir Bobby.
“I’ll enjoy it because it’s a real honour. But hopefully I’ll be on my own soon.
“You don’t think about doing something like this, but I’ve been at this club for a long time, it’s a huge part of my life and I’m honoured to be up there with Sir Bobby.”
His current manager, Jose Mourinho, was thrilled to see his captain notch the special strike, but he can’t wait for the 250th.
With home games to come in the next seven days against Hull in the EFL Cup semi-final on Tuesday and then Liverpool in the Premier League, he hopes it won’t be far off.
“The best day will arrive,” said the United boss. “It’s just a question of when. Everybody knows who Sir Bobby is and what he means for the club and for English football.
“So for Wayne to score this number of goals for Manchester United is fantastic, but the best day is still to come.”
Rooney had almost found the net with a shot that was well saved by Ali Al-Habsi before he did equal the record.
Anthony Martial laid the ball back to Juan Mata, and the Spaniard clipped in a little pass for Rooney, who guided the ball past the goalkeeper with his thigh and into the far corner.
It was not one of his vintage strikes, but you don’t get that many without having a knack for scoring all types of goals.
Sir Bobby politely applauded up in the director’s box as Rooney equalled a tally that had stood since 31 March 1973 – a period of 43 years and 282 days.
And this momentous goal comes 16 months after he broke Charlton’s record to become the all-time leading scorer for England.
He had three chances in the second half to set a new United mark, but he put one chance wide and was twice denied by Al-Habsi, so the wait will go on.
The build-up before the match had focused on the return of another Old Trafford legend in Jaap Stam.
His three years with United brought three Premier League titles, one FA Cup and the Champions League that was famously won in Barcelona in 1999 as part of the treble-winning side.
Reading is his first job in management and he is creating a good impression with the Royals, who are currently riding high in third place in the Championship.
The Dutchman is widely regarded as one of United’s greatest ever defenders, but he can’t have been impressed at how his new team was defending.
There had been two escapes before Rooney’s goal and there was an alarming ease with which Martial doubled the lead with less than a quarter of an hour gone. As Stam’s name was being serenaded from the Stretford End, he could only watch as Martial exchanged passes with Rooney and advanced into the box unchallenged before finding the bottom corner with his finish.
The game was put beyond doubt as Rashford grabbed two goals in four minutes, his first strikes since the end of September.
The first came after Liam Moore failed to cut out Michael Carrick’s pass from deep and the teenager ran through to finish.
His second was a gift and a moment for Al-Habsi to forget as the goalkeeper swung to clear with his left foot, inadvertently touched it with his right and left Rashford with an open goal.
Former United hero Stam offered an interesting assessment on how his old team is developing.
“There is not much difference between how United are playing now than under Louis van Gaal,” he reflected.
“But the manager has given the players a belief and confidence to perform together. That is one of Mourinho’s many qualities.”
Manchester Utd: Romero 6; Young 6, Smalling 6, Rojo 5 (Jones 19, 6), Blind 6; Carrick 7 (Fosu-Mensah 78, 4), Fellaini 6; Mata 7 (Schweinsteiger 78, 5), Rooney 8, Martial 7; Rashford 7. Unused subs – Pereira (Gk), Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan.
Reading: Al-Habsi 6; Gunter 6, L. Moore 5, van den Berg 5, Blackett 5 (Obita 46, 5); Evans 5 (Swift 57, 5); McCleary 5, Williams 6, Kelly 5, Beerens 5; Kermorgant 5 (Samuel 77, 4). Unused subs – S. Moore (Gk), Cooper, Watson, Meite.