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(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Reading manager Brian McDermott has called for unity within his relegation-threatened club ahead of Saturday's clash against Premier League leaders Manchester United at the Madejski Stadium.

Reading (1-6-6) are second from bottom of the table with only winless Queens Park Rangers below them. Two straight away defeats to fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic last weekend and Aston Villa on Tuesday have left the Royals four points adrift of safety, but McDermott insists his embattled team can pull clear of trouble with the help of the club's supporters.

"We have to stick together now," he said after the loss at Villa Park. "It is really important we do that as a group, as fans. "Hopefully they will stick with us, and get us over the line, and we get a result somewhere. We've got Manchester United next and it doesn't get any better."

Reading conceded late goals in both the Wigan and Aston Villa matches when looking set for at least a draw. Jordi Gomez hit a stoppage-time winner for the Latics, while Christian Benteke scored in the last 10 minutes to seal victory for Villa.

McDermott admits the Royals have to improve their defending in the latter stages of a match and maintain concentration for the full 90 minutes."It was frustrating to lose another late goal (against Villa)," McDermott said. "Over my three years here we've had spells when we have conceded late goals and solved that problem."

Table-topping Manchester United (11-0-3) have won seven of their last eight league matches and are one point clear of local rivals Manchester City, with Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion in third and fourth places, respectively, six points further back.

Robin van Persie scored the fastest Premier League of the season in United's 1-0 win over West Ham at Old Trafford on Wednesday. The Dutch striker netted after just 32 seconds against the Hammers and leads the Red Devils with 12 goals in all competitions.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has identified the next few weeks as a crucial period in the Red Devils' challenge for the league title.

"With no international football and our last (Champions League) group game next Wednesday, it gives us a further chance to concentrate on the league," Ferguson said after the West Ham match.

Including this match, Ferguson's side is due to play seven league matches between now and Jan.1. The busy fixture list includes a crucial local derby against title rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Dec.9.

Reading have been hit by the news that goalkeeper Alex McCarthy will be out for the rest of the season after being told he requires surgery. The 22-year-old shot-stopper sustained serious damage to his shoulder when he collided with a goalpost during the 1-1 draw at QPR on Nov. 3. Adam Federici will now continue in goal, with Stuart Taylor and Mikkel Anderson offering back-up.

Winger Antonio Valencia could return to United's squad after missing the West Ham match with a hip injury but Nani, Shinji Kagawa and Nemanja Vidic are still unavailable.

United are the Premier League's top scorers with 33 goals, while Reading have conceded 23 league goals - only Southampton, Queens Park Rangers and Wigan having surrendered more.

Reading have yet to beat United in league action. The two teams have only played each other four times, during the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 season when Reading were last in the top flight. United won both games played at Reading. The two games played at Old Trafford were drawn.

Updated November 29, 2012

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