On this day: Manchester United stay top after thriller at Reading

On this day in 2012, Manchester United went three points ahead of Manchester City with a 4-3 classic win against Reading.

When the fixture list is compiled, supporters of clubs up and down the country quickly start to work out which games they expect points in and which ones are likely to be a write-off. When Reading hosted Manchester United met at the Madejski Stadium on this day in 2012, no-one expected the thriller that was to ensue.

United were top of the Premier League by a point from Manchester City, with the two rival clubs already starting to streak away from the rest of the league. They were up against a struggling Hoops side that had just one win in 13 games so far, but just one defeat at home. On paper, this was a comfortable away win.

However, the game is not played on paper and those in attendance that day were treated to a thriller of the highest order. The managers at the time, Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian McDermott, would have been far from happy with what they were to witness from their respective defences. Indeed, Ferguson hauled off the hapless Rafael after just half an hour for Chris Smalling.

Reading's English striker Adam Le Fondre scores their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Reading and Manchester United on December 1, 2012© Getty Images

Although Reading had already been involved in a number of high-scoring clashes at home so far, any talk of the same in the build-up was referring to an expected thrashing for the hosts. However, they played their part and probably deserved a point at the end of the game, but it was not to be. After a frantic first half they fell to defeat.

It could have been so much better for the hosts, but their once more strong attack was nullified by the defensive failings that had already become a theme. Indeed, the seven goals in this game all arrived in 26 first-half minutes as fans and commentators alike struggled to catch their breath between strikes. Reading's first was a fine effort from Hal Robson-Kanu, who was allowed too much room to chest down a cross and thrash past Anders Lindegaard.

Their joy lasted just five minutes, however. It was Anderson's turn to lash in a finish as he was played in down the left by Ashley Young to finish powerfully at the near post. Adam Federici in the Reading goal did not have long to think about his positioning as he was picking the ball out of the net again just three minutes later when Wayne Rooney sent him the wrong way from the spot.

Anderson of Manchester United celebrates scoring a goal with teammate Ashley Young during the Barclays Premier League match between Reading© Getty Images

Back came Reading with a set piece of their own. As Nicky Shorey swung in a corner from the right, the United defence was again far too statuesque and Adam Le Fondre was allowed to nod in from inside the six-yard box. Not even 19 minutes had passed and there had been four goals. In another four minutes there had been five goals as again a Shorey corner caused havoc in the United box and Sean Morrison buried a header from even closer range.

This time there were a whole seven minutes between goals. Just as those watching thought that Reading might be able to hang on to their lead for a while Rooney added his second, tapping in from a Patrice Evra cross. The visitors regained the lead inside 34 minutes with Rooney flicking on to Robin van Persie, who finished well with his weaker foot.

It would not be a classic Premier League game without controversy, too. Just before the break United should have had the two-goal cushion that surely would have make them comfortable, but Van Persie's bundled effort was cleared almost off the line by Shaun Cummings and the referee decided it had not crossed. It had, but the decision was not to matter as United moved three points clear after a goalless second half.

Gareth McCleary of Reading holds off the challenge of Elliot Hewitt of Ipswich during the Sky Bet Championship match between Reading and Ipswich Town at the Madejski Stadium on August 03, 2013
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City23202167175062
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd23155348163250
3Liverpool23138254282647
4Chelsea23145441162547
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs23135546212544
6Arsenal23116641301139
7Burnley239771920-134
8Leicester CityLeicester238783432231
9Everton2376102538-1327
10Watford2375113342-926
11West Ham UnitedWest Ham2367102941-1225
12Crystal Palace2367102133-1225
13Bournemouth2366112435-1124
14Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2366111939-2024
15Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2365122131-1023
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2358101729-1223
17Southampton2349102334-1121
18Stoke CityStoke2355132350-2720
19West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom23310101830-1219
20Swansea CitySwansea2345141435-2117
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