Reading's Paul Ince says he sees Alex Ferguson parallels in Erik ten Hag's Man Utd

Manchester United's Casemiro celebrates scoring their first goal with Tyrell Malacia - REUTERS/Phil Noble
Manchester United's Casemiro celebrates scoring their first goal with Tyrell Malacia - REUTERS/Phil Noble

By Mike McGrath, at Old Trafford

Some 30 years after Paul Ince was in the engine room of Manchester United’s first Premier League title, he saw the foundations of success in their current team under Erik ten Hag as he watched on from the technical area of Old Trafford.

The Reading manager was on the receiving end of an FA Cup defeat, with United in no mood for generosity towards one of their heroes of the past. Casemiro’s two goals and a cheeky backheel from Fred broke their resistance. Ince’s team, mid-table in the Championship, replied through Amadou Mbengue but Andy Carroll’s dismissal ended hopes of an upset.

There was a brief exchange between the managers at the final whistle when Ince wished Ten Hag good luck in the competition and told him he was doing a good job. Ince sees similarities with the Sir Alex Ferguson era, high praise from the position United were during their disastrous start to the season.

Paul Ince - Getty Images/Matthew Peters
Paul Ince - Getty Images/Matthew Peters

“No disrespect, if we had played United a year ago I would have felt he had a right good chance of beating them, teams were coming here thinking they could get something as Burnley did and Aston Villa did,” Ince said.

“Ten Hag, in a short period of time, has lifted the club. The last two or three years have been tough for Untied and there was a disparity between fans and the players, Ten Hag has started to bridge that gap.

“They are starting to get a presence about them. That is important, if you go back to the Fergie years there was a presence. There is no stuff coming out about fragmentation in the dressing room.”

Ten Hag’s team have developed into a ruthless outfit, brushing aside their opponents as they rebuild. They remain the only English club involved in four competitions and are likely to book a first trip to Wembley on Wednesday when they face Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup semi-final with a healthy first-leg lead.

During Ince’s time at United it was the FA Cup that gave Ferguson’s players their first taste of glory that grew into dominance. Ten Hag will see silverware in any form as a gateway to greater success. United are still in the title race and it is being on the Premier League perch that fans crave, yet how they would love another cup triumph after six potless years.

Their Dutch manager has treated the domestic trophies with respect, putting out strong teams as he did here despite still being on the coat-tails of Arsenal. Casemiro, 30, would be a candidate for a breather normally but United have momentum.

This match was also a good barometer of United’s progress: this time last year they were knocked by Middlesbrough and their hopes of finishing in the top four were fading. The only blemishes? Marcus Rashford finally drew a blank after scoring in nine consecutive home games, while Christian Eriksen has an ankle injury after a challenge from Carroll.

United’s goals came from all their Brazilian stars combining on a bitterly cold night. “It’s not the Copacabana, eh?” said Ten Hag.

After suffering poor recent form, Antony finally found the same wavelength as his team-mates, producing a no-look reverse pass. The ball was weighted perfectly for Casemiro to run through and scoop the ball over Lumley, his third goal since arriving at United.

Acknowledging his team-mate’s lean spell, Casemiro pointed to Antony during the celebrations to ensure he received the credit. But his second goal was all down to himself. Given too much time 30 yards from goal, Casemiro took aim and curled his long-ranger into the bottom corner. It felt like nobody was expecting a shot, yet the look on the goalscorer’s face afterwards suggested ‘why not?’

“Casemiro is a Champions League winner, a great player. It is irrelevant what you do against Reading or Leicester or Southampton, you base it on what you do against Arsenal and Man City and if you win titles,” said Ince. “That’s what we had with Keaney [Roy Keane] and Robbo [Bryan Robson]. As much as he scored against us, that is not important. It is important you have someone who can go against the big guns.”

It got worse for Reading, Carroll given his second yellow card after following up a needless foul with a wild slide tackle on Casemiro. He apologised immediately but the damage was already done. In the next attack, Fred backheeled in at the near post for the third goal, another goal with a Samba theme. Mbengue pulled one back with a header from a corner.

“I am satisfied,” said Ten Hag. “And when you are satisfied you have to take care that you don’t get lazy and with this performance we have to be satisfied. In the first 60 minutes, we played really well. Good in possession and formation and good in behind them, good runs, we created a lot of chances and our defence transitions was really good and there was only one moment before half time where we had a lack of concentration but for the rest we created really good chances.

“Three Brazilian goal scorers and the assist for the first goal was from Antony so I think it was a good performance from the team but when the performance of the team there are always some performances of the level above and today Casemiro and Antony were good.”

Manchester United 3 Reading 1: As it happened

10:18 PM

Paul Ince speaks...

On the match and performance...

"You have to be proud of the have to ride your luck, to go in at 0-0 gave us a bit of belief. Poor marking from our midfield allowed Casemiro to get the first and [that was it]"

On Andy Carroll's red card...

"The first yellow wasn't a foul...[but] once you've been booked you cannot make those sorts of tackles."

10:03 PM

Harry Maguire speaks...

Happy with the performance and win?

"Yes, for sure. First half we controlled the game and had numerous chances. We spoke at half time and knew we could get the goal."

On Casemiro...

"He's a phenomenal player, you don't win what he's done without being a phenomenal player and it's great to have him."

On being in and out of the team...

"I am a player, 29  years old and haven't been in this position in my career. I am working hard, pushing and training well. I don't want to get used to it but it's part and parcel of football. You need to have competition for places at this club."

09:56 PM

FULL TIME: Man Utd 3-1 Reading

It's all over at Old Trafford and it was a pretty regulation win for the hosts. They were frustrated by Reading in the first half but once Casemiro got the opener there was only going to be one winner.

09:51 PM

90 minutes: Man Utd 3-1 Reading

Antony is named man of the match - he's not been outstanding today, but, to be fair, it has been probably his best showing since moving to Old Trafford.

09:48 PM

85 minutes: Man Utd 3-1 Reading

The hosts still applying the pressure and go close to a fourth by Antony slips when shooting at the back post.

09:44 PM

United defence look away now...

...the poorly defended corner that led to Reading's goal.

09:42 PM

79 minutes: Man Utd 3-1 Reading

More than a decent chance for Reading. Tom Ince is in acres of space in the inside-right channel, after United lose the ball, he drives into the box but rather than have a go he lays it off to Fornah who does everything he can do to avoid shooting...Paul Ince on the touchline is livid...

09:38 PM

77 minutes: Man Utd 3-1 Reading

It's very hard - verging on the impossible - to see Reading get back into this/cause a few worries over the last 10 or so minutes. The hosts are still dominating possession and Ready are living of the most tiny of scraps.

09:35 PM

United's third

09:32 PM


Man Utd 3-1 Reading (Mbengue)

Perhaps this contest isn't just over (it most probably is...) as the Reading sub, Mbengue heads home unmarked from a corner - that will annoy Ten Hag...

09:31 PM

As late a tackle as you will see

Almost comical...

09:30 PM

68 minutes: Man Utd 3-0 Reading

It's nearly a fourth for the hosts after Garnacho turns this way and that before shooting low. It's well saved by Lumley and somehow, not over sure how, no man in a red shirt can score with  the rebound.

09:29 PM

Here's United's and Casemiro's second

09:26 PM


Man Utd 3-0 Reading (Fred)

It's United corner - they go short before Fernandes crosses to the near post and Fred flicks/back heels it into the back of the net. Easy and oh so good to watch.

09:26 PM

64 minutes: Man Utd 2-0 Reading

Red card for Andy Carroll - it's a second yellow and it's as easy a decision as you'll see all year. No one, not even the most blinkered of fans could dispute this one. The Reading striker slides in late on Casemiro - late as in a a decade late...

09:24 PM

62 minutes: Man Utd 2-0 Reading

Reading look tired now - they've done a lot of chasing and you can see this ending up 4 or 5-0 to the hosts.

09:21 PM

Here's how Man Utd went ahead

09:18 PM


Man Utd 2-0 Reading (Casemiro)

It's another for the Brazilian...Fred, just on for Eriksen,  lays it off for his compatriot 26 yards out and Casemiro, I suppose, toe pokes it right into the far corner of the net. Great strike and this match is all but over.

09:14 PM


Man Utd 1-0 Reading (Casemiro)

Finally...great work from Antony who gets the ball on the right from Eriksen, cuts inside and plays a lovely ball to his fellow Brazilian who dinks it over the on-rushing Lumley into the net.

09:13 PM

52 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

The hosts are yet to create anything this half and the longer the match goes on in the same vein the more the word 'frustrating' becomes 'worrying'...

09:11 PM

48 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Hoilett feels the sharp end of Weghort's elbow - all accidental - and he's down with what looks like a bloody nose. After a while the Reading man gets up, but with two rather noticeable bits of bog roll stuffed up each's a look...

09:08 PM

47 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Man Utd had 35 touches in the opposition box compared to Reading's one. But it's been all too easy for the visitors - it's been all in front of them and as I type Fernandes lets fly from 30 yards and the ball goes sailing well over the bar. That sort of sums up the night so far for the hosts.

09:04 PM

45 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

They're back under way at Old Trafford - can Man Utd break down this Reading resistance?

08:52 PM

Rashford's disallowed goal

08:50 PM

HALF TIME: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

It's all going according to plan for the visitors who've offered very close to nothing in attack but have defended resolutely in attack. You suspect that once the dam is broken Untied will score a few, but until then it's all to play for.

08:48 PM

44 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Nearly a goal for Reading. The ball comes in from the left and Malacia decides that now is the time to act all cool and relaxed by chesting the ball back to De Gea. The ball falls instead to Hoilett  and his attempt is well saved by the Spanish stopper. That was a bit too close for comfort for the hosts.

08:45 PM

41 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

United are still huffing and puffing but are distinctly unable to blow the Reading house down. Fernandes crosses low and it's intercepted for a corner.

From that set piece the ball falls at the feet of Antony and his attempt, from outside the box, is wide.

08:40 PM

37 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

There's no real rest for Reading at the moment - it's all Man Utd possession and they should be at least a goal up considering the amount of the ball they've had.

08:39 PM

Scrap that - VAR intervenes....

Rashford hasn't scored his 10th home game in a row (for now, at least...). In the build up to the goal that saw the England man head home at the back post Weghorst was offside and the video boffins at Stockley Park have intervened.

It stays Man Utd 0-0 Reading

08:36 PM


Man Utd 1-0 Reading (Rashford)

New record for Rashford, scoring for 10th consecutive home game.

08:35 PM

30 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Nothing much happening out on the pitch at the moment - so far, so good for Reading. They've offered nothing in attack but have frustrated United very wall so far.

08:29 PM

Antony's earlier attempt

That went just wide.

Martin Rickett - PA/Martin Rickett
Martin Rickett - PA/Martin Rickett

08:27 PM

26 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

This isn't a classic - it's all rather prosaic so far. United are committing men forward but creating nothing.

As I type United attack down the left, the ball arrives at the edge of the box and Eriksen's shot is blocked by that man Holmes...the Reading defender is having a fine game so far.

08:26 PM

23 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

No doubt who'll be the happier of Ten Hag or Ince. United have been restricted to long shots and half-chances so far. Reading are defending in numbers and well. The Old Trafford crowd is quiet and vocally resembling one at Craven Cottage (no offence Richard Osman, Hugh Grant and Co...)...

08:23 PM

20 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Super challenge from Holmes deflects a Weghorst shot from going in. The ball came in from the left and it fell to the Dutchman who turned and shot but a last-ditch block from the Reading defender prevents the hosts from going 1-0 up.

08:19 PM

The only real action of note so far

And it's a free kick...

08:18 PM

16 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

More patient build-up play from the hosts. The ball is out on the right, it eventually comes to the much-disparaged Antony who tries to curl it into the far corner and it just goes wide.

08:16 PM

12 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Free kick for United - it's 30 yards out and Rashford is set to take. No United player has score in 10 consecutive home matches and that stat remains true as the England man hits a 'knuckleball' that serves but Lumley, in the Reading goal, save well.

08:12 PM

10 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Paul Ince will be happy - Man Utd haven't created anything and the crowd is quiet..

08:09 PM

8 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Free kick for the hosts 25 yards out on the right. Eriksen goes for goal, but it goes just wide of the far upright.

08:08 PM

6 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

The pattern of play for the reat of the night has, you suspect, already been set. United with most of the ball, Reading sitting deeper than a philosophy PhD hoping to leave no space for the hosts to play with/wreak havoc.

08:06 PM

4 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

Hendrick is fouled by Casemiro and the visitors have a free kick 25 yards out, decent position for Reading. Can they create anything out of this?

The easy, quick answer is 'NO' as Tom Ince, who used to kick a ball in the players tunnel at Old Trafford as child, hit the wall.

08:03 PM

2 mins: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

United with all the ball so far - no shock there. They've got five up front at the moment but Reading defend deep and nothing, absolutely nothing, of note happens.

08:01 PM

1 min: Man Utd 0-0 Reading

They're underway at Old Trafford, the hosts are in their famous red shirts and the visitors in their less famous, but no less cool, blue and white hoops.

08:00 PM

The teams are out on the famous pitch

And we're moments away from kick-off.

07:57 PM

No shock to say...

...that Man Utd are strong favourites tonight. Ten Hag has named a strong starting XI and they've won eight of their 10 games since the World Cup. Reading, on the other hand,  haven't won a league game this year.

07:34 PM

Here are the two teams in black and white

MAN UTD XI TO FACE READING: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia, Casemiro, Eriksen, Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Weghorst. Subs: Heaton, Martinez, Varane, Williams, Fred, Mainoo, Pellistri, Elanag, Garnacho

Erik ten Hag makes just the one change to the side beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday -  Harry Maguire comes in for Lisandro Martinez.

Harry Maguire starts for the hosts tonight - PA/Martin Rickett
Harry Maguire starts for the hosts tonight - PA/Martin Rickett

READING XI TO FACE MAN UTD: Lumley, Hoilett, Yiadom, Holmes, McIntyre, Rahman, Hendrick, Loum, Joao, Ince, Carroll. Subs: Bouzanis, Guinness-Walker, Mbengue, Dann, Craig, Fornah, Long, Azeez, Meite

Paul Ince's side lost 4-0 to Stoke last time out and so it's no shock to see that the former Man Utd 'Guv'nor' make a couple of changes - Andy Carroll and Lucas Joao come in for Yakou Meite and Tyrese Fornah.

Andy Carroll - PA/Joe Giddens
Andy Carroll - PA/Joe Giddens

07:22 PM

This lot will be in the crowd tonight

Not a bad ensemble - a few of Man Utd's Premier League title winners from 1992-93, the club's first top-flight title for 26 years and the trophy that launched a sporting and financial behemoth. Out of small acorns a lot of cash, issues, questions about who owns the game, moral problems etc etc grow...or something like that...

BTW the chap on the far left in the front row is Brian McClair...

07:12 PM

Here be Reading

07:11 PM

Here's the Man Utd XI

05:55 PM

Good evening

Welcome to our coverage for the evening kick off for today's FA Cup fourth round ties, between Manchester United and Reading. The two teams are in vastly differing form, with the home side having enjoyed a significant renaissance under Erik ten Hag in a week where they took a huge step into the League Cup final with a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest.

Reading, on the other hand, have slipped down the Championship table, with just one win in their last five league games, and a total of five points in that time, too. They are, however, only five points off the playoff places, such is its tightness.

One man who has played a big part in United's revival is Marcus Rashford, scoring 10 goals in his last 10 appearances (and 18 for the season) for the club. Manager Ten Hag, however, says it is nothing to do with him directly.

"I’m not Harry Potter! It’s just confidence. Every player has to make and get his own confidence. He fought for this, he invested in this," the Dutchman said.

"Of course, with my coaching staff, we bring in structures, especially in the way of play that gives him routines that he needs to get into the right position.

"But finally, it’s up to him, to the player, and when the player has the confidence then I’m convinced in the way we are working - the way of play is most important but also the environment and the culture are also important - that the player can perform at his best.

"It’s obvious that Marcus at this moment is in really good shape, really good form. I think from day to day, from training to training, from game to game, the routines are taking effect."

Whether he will start tonight is another matter, and you might expect he would be rested in a period where United play nine games in the next 30 games including two ties against Leeds in four days and an away trip to Barcelona in the Europa league.

We will find out shortly, though, as the teams for both sides are announced.