Premier League preview: Manchester United v Reading
By Football News
If a trip to Old Trafford to take on runaway leaders Manchester United wasn't daunting enough, Reading will do so minus a manager.
Brian McDermott was sacked from the Royals' post after the club succumbed to a fourth straight league defeat on Saturday, with the home defeat all the more detrimental as it came at the hands of relegation rivals Aston Villa.
It spelled the end of McDermott's four-year reign in charge of the club, but it also posed a massive task for interim manager Eamonn Dolan - the academy head coach - with a trip to the champions-elect, as United lead the league by 12 points with 10 matches remaining.
In terms of a 'David versus Goliath' battle, fewer clashes fit the bill so perfectly, with 48 points separating the two clubs with Reading 19th on the table, level on points and goal difference with cellar dwellers QPR.
But with all those numbers appearing in favour of Sir Alex Ferguson's men, Reading can take some solace in their recent form against United.
Despite losing their two clashes so far this season, Reading have put four goals past United - with those goals coming in two thrilling contests.
The Royals led twice against United in the reverse league fixture before going down 4-3 with all seven goals scored in the opening 34 minutes.
This was followed by a tense FA Cup tie, which United edged 2-1 but only after Jobi McAnuff pulled a goal back 10 minutes from time.
And while Reading earned the plaudits of football pundits for their exploits against United, an honourable defeat won't be worth anything to them in their desperate predicament.
Four points deep into the relegation zone and winless in five in all competitions, Reading need points fast - but have an upcoming fixture list that reads Manchester United (A), Arsenal (A), Southampton and Liverpool.
Making life all the more difficult for them on Saturday will be the continued absence of suspended striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who will serve the last of his three-match ban earned against Wigan in February.
Also absent for the struggling side are goalkeepers Adam Federici (ankle) and Alex McCarthy (shoulder), midfielders Danny Guthrie (calf) and Jimmy Kebe (hamstring), and striker Jason Roberts (knee).
Ferguson is only unable to select three from his sizable squad, with Darren Fletcher (illness), Phil Jones (ankle) and Paul Scholes (knee) all unavailable.
But if United wished for a cruisy fixture to prepare for their FA Cup replay with Chelsea, then it looks like it will come true for them on Saturday.