READING, England (AP) — Manchester United prepared for next weekend's derby with Man City by moving three points clear of the champions with a frenzied 4-3 win at Reading in the Premier League on Saturday in which all the goals came in the opening 34 minutes.
Hal Robson-Kanu put Reading in front, but Anderson equalized and Wayne Rooney gave United the lead from the penalty spot by the 16th minute. Adam Le Fondre and Sean Morrison headed Reading back in front from corners, but the lead didn't last long.
United's second comeback was begun by Rooney, with Robin van Persie then completing the scoring as the visitors' fragility at the back disappeared. "It was crazy to be honest but we dug in there," Rooney said. "We knew that in the first half our defending from set pieces wasn't good enough and that can cost us. In the second half we wanted to be more solid."
United's victory today was its seventh after falling behind this season. "I thought it might be a record Premier League score at halftime," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "It was really, really bad defending. That was the absolute worst it's been this season. We deserved to get battered today. We scored goals thankfully which rescued us."
Ferguson will be hoping the defense is stronger Sunday week when United hosts second-place City, which was held to a 1-1 draw by Everton on Saturday. The first goal in the thrilling first half at Madejski Stadium came after eight minutes when United defender Jonny Evans could only head Jobi McAnuff's cross into the path of Robson-Kanu, who volleyed past goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard.
But United found showed its ruthlessness when coming from behind. Anderson picked out Ashley Young wide on the left and the Brazil midfielder continued his run before Young picked him out and he lashed United level in the 13th.
The visitors were ahead three minutes later after Jay Tabb bundled into the back of Evans, and Rooney scored from the penalty spot Reading was level three minutes later, Le Fondre wriggling free of Evans in the area to head home Nicky Shorey's corner.
Brian McDermott's side has shown great resolve this season and took advantage of further poor defending from United to re-take the lead. Moments after Rio Ferdinand had headed away a cross at the back post, Morrison beat Evans to a corner and powered a close-range header past Lindegaard.
But United was soon back on top. A sublime piece of skill from Young freed Patrice Evra down the left, and his low cross was tucked away by Rooney to make it 3-3 on the half-hour. Ferguson decided to make a tactical substitution and replaced defender Rafael da Silva, who had been cautioned moments earlier, with the more powerful Chris Smalling
The Brazilian was unhappy at being replaced. "The boy was disappointed coming off," Ferguson said. "He has been one of our best players this season." United was in front for good from the 34th. Michael Carrick's through ball was deflected into the path of Van Persie by a clever touch by Rooney, and the Netherland forward slotted past goalkeeper Adam Federici with his weaker right foot.
United was denied a fifth goal before halftime as Van Persie pounced on Federici's save and directed an effort goal-ward. Adrian Mariappa was in the right place to clear, but it appeared the whole of the ball had crossed the line before he hacked it away.
The second half started much calmer but it was Reading pressing forward. Lindegaard fumbled a simple catch from Shorey's corner before Reading's appeals for a penalty were waved away after Evra won the ball in a challenge with Mariappa.
Van Persie wasted a good chance to put United two clear when he shot wide after being picked out by Phil Jones, although the ball to the ex-Arsenal striker was slightly behind him. Van Persie missed a better opportunity moments later, robbing the ball off Federici but unable to hit the empty net from a tight angle.
Reading pushed on in stoppage time and Morrison's header was tipped over by Lindegaard. "It was a miracle that we won the way we were defending," Ferguson said. "I'm just glad we did win it."