READING FC suffered an FA Cup third-round exit against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

A Juan Mata penalty on 23 minutes and a Romelu Lukaku strike in first-half injury time sent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side into the fourth round.

But it was anything but a comfortable afternoon for United’s interim manager after Royals pushed their hosts all the way.

Danny Loader, Callum Harriott and substitute Sone Aluko all went close for the Royals who were rarely outplayed, despite the obvious gulf in class.

Many felt today would be a damage limitation exercise for Jose Gomes’ Royals given their woeful form in the league.

They arrived in Manchester on a 10-game winless run and with confidence at rock bottom.

And the prospect of facing Solskjaer’s rejuvenated Reds would not have filled many with hope.

Nevertheless, Royals – backed by more than 3,000 travelling fans – put in one of their best performances of the season that could stand them in good stead for their Championship relegation battle.

Gomes made four changes from the side that slumped to a 4-1 home defeat to Swansea City last weekend.

Fit-again skipper Liam Moore stepped back into defence, while Liam Kelly and Danny Loader were given the nod.

Callum Harriott was also handed his first start for more than two years after his goalscoring return from the bench against the Swans, while Academy midfielder Ryan East was named among the subs.

Gomes will have been satisfied with his side’s solid start as Royals knocked the ball around well and kept United at bay.

The hosts created a chance on eight minutes when Scott McTominay rose above three opponents to win a header from a free-kick, but Moore was well placed to head the ball away.

They also went close in the 16th minute, Alexis Sanchez firing over from 20 yards after a slick counter attack.

But Royals hit back with their first opportunity of the game less than a minute later.

Kelly sprayed a neat pass out to Garath McCleary who rolled the ball across the United area.

Andy Yiadom arrived in perfect time, but the full-back’s finishing let him down as he blazed over from 15 yards.

Yet Reading’s encouraging start ended in controversy when United broke the deadlock midway through the first half.

Solskjaer’s men broke from midfield and Fred rolled the ball past Jaakkola for what looked the opening goal.

However, referee Stuart Attwell of ‘Ghost Goal’ fame ruled it out and awarded a penalty for an Omar Richards trip on Mata in the build up after consulting with his assistant.

Mata made no mistake by sending Jaakkola the wrong way for a 1-0 lead.

United almost grabbed a second on the half-four mark when Romelu Lukaku raced through on goal, but Moore recovered and held up the striker whose shot failed to trouble Jaakkola.

Reading Chronicle:

Callum Harriott goes close for the Royals.

Royals then wasted a gilt-edged chance to equalise and silence the Old Trafford crowd.

Gomes’ men burst forward and Harriott’s well-weighted pass sent Loader clean through.

The teenager went around Sergio Romero, but the angle was against him allowing United goalkeeper Sergio Romero to recover and cut out the striker’s attempted pass.

Royals responded quickly as the lively Harriott sliced an effort wide from 25 yards.

He also tested Romero with a grass cutter after John Swift had dispossessed Andreas Pereira on the edge of the United area.

Then came the decisive moment with Reading wasting a clear-cut chance at one end seconds before United scored their second at the other.

Good work from Swift allowed Yiadom to fashion a chance on the angle, but Romero made a smart save at his near post before the hosts defended the subsequent corner.

Reading, though, shot themselves in the foot when Swift’s loose pace was pounced upon by United who broke quickly before Lukaku rounded Jaakkola and fired into an empty net.

It was harsh on the visitors were had been in the first half for long periods but went in two goals down.

Gomes made a change at the break by sending on Sone Aluko for Tiago Ilori who picked up a hip injury early on after a heavy challenge by Lukaku.

And the visitors showed their intent straight from the restart, with Swift blazing over after good work from McCleary and Loader.

Swift, desperate to atone for his mistake for Lukaku’s goal, also tested Romero with a 25-yard free-kick.

There was no letting up from the Royals, but their finishing let them down again when they blew another gilt-edged chance on 53 minutes.

Substitute Sone Aluko found Harriott in acres of space with a clever reverse pass just outside the box.

But Harriott, with only Romero to beat, hit his shot straight at the United keeper when anywhere else would have done.

United hit back as Mata’s effort required a vital block from Moore after the visitor had given the ball away.

Then, after a flurry of substitutions, Jaakkola denied Marouane Fellaini who had seen set up by Ashley Young.

But Reading refused to lie down and they almost reduced the deficit on 70 minutes.

Harriott released Aluko after Young had trodden on the ball, and Aluko played a neat one-two with Mo Barrow before his shot from 18 yards was pushed around the post by Romero.

Had that gone in it may have set up a grandstand finish at Old Trafford.

As it was, United saw out the final stages and almost grabbed a third when substitute Marcus Rashford somehow tripped over the ball with only Jaakkola to beat.

Then Jaakkola got down quickly to make a brilliant save to deny Andreas Pereira at the death.

Nevertheless, it was an encouraging display from Gomes’ men whose task now is to reach the same level of performance in the Championship on a regular basis.

Manchester United: Romero, Young (c), Jones, McTominay, Pereira, Dalot, Fred (Fellani 62), Mata (Chong 62), Darmian, Sanchez (Rashford 64), Lukaku. Subs not used: Grant, Lindelof, Garner, Martial. Booked: Chong 77.

Reading FC: aakkola, Yiadom, Ilori (Aluko 46), Moore (c), Richards, Swift, McCleary (Barrow 61), Harriott (Meite 76), Rinomhota, Kelly, Loader. Subs not used: Gunter, O'Shea, Walker, East. Booked: Yiadom 33.

Referee: Stuart Attwell.

Attendance: 73,918.