Red Devils clash holds no fear for Reading FC's Pearce
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No fears: Alex Pearce.
WHAT A difference a month makes.
Just 26 days after their last trip to Old Trafford, Reading make the daunting journey to the Theatre of Dreams again this Saturday (5.30pm, live on ESPN).
Only this time they do so in apparent disarray.
No permanent manager - not least one who has just won the Premier League Manager of the Month award - no run of form to draw confidence from, and seemingly no cause for optimism on the horizon.
In fact, almost the only parallel between the two trips are the expectations.
They remain as low this weekend as they did when Royals travelled up for the FA Cup fifth-round clash, with few fans expecting anything other than a comfortable United win.
But while Reading have been written off in most quarters, inside the dressing room there is the same belief as ever.
They may have lost both two revered figures in Brian McDermott and Nigel Gibbs this week, they may have lost their last five games in a row, but they only lost 2-1 on their last trip to Old Trafford, and for talismanic defender Alex Pearce, that shows that all is far from lost.
"It's nine games left now and nine cup finals," he said.
"We've got to take each game as it comes and give our all. Hopefully it will be enough. We've got a couple of tough games coming up next and we need to do the best we can.
"They're not easy games but you never know in football. We can regroup this week and get ourselves together. If we go there and put on a proper team performance you never know what might happen."
On paper at least, United look to be heavy favourites.
The champions-elect are 12 points clear of rivals Manchester City at the top of the table and have dropped just three points at home all season.
Royals, on the other hand, have suffered demoralising losses to relegation rivals Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa since their last visit to Old Trafford.
But Pearce says his side will never stop believing that they can turn things around in the final nine games.
"We're obviously very disappointed with the Villa result and the dressing room was very down, but we will never lose belief," he commented.
"We must pick ourselves up now, it's the only thing we can do. Everyone has written us off, they had done so before the season even started. We've got to stick together now, it's massively important."
Frustratingly for Reading, and in particular for the now departed Brian McDermott, the result last weekend could have been so different.
Noel Hunt vented his anger at the officials after he was denied a penalty and also a goal after a very tight offside call.
Pearce conceded they were 'unlucky' with the decisions but said they need to take the referee out of the equation.
"The offside was a big decision but we have to eliminate talking about referees every week," he said.
"It seems to happening quite a lot this season so we need to eliminate that and try and do as well as we can during games. We put up a good fight and I thought we played well in the second half. But we will move on and look to Manchester United this Saturday."