Manchester City will really get up Alex Ferguson's nose if they carry on like this. Last season they won the title in the final minute just when the Manchester United manager thought he had it in his pocket, here they spluttered unconvincingly for 90 minutes against the Premier League's bottom club before scoring in 'Fergie time', just as United must have been salivating at the prospect of winning at Swansea today to go eight points clear.
Gareth Barry turned up at the far post in the second minute of added time to just about legally climb above Nicky Shorey and nod in David Silva's cross, leaving Reading with nothing but a familiar sinking feeling.
It wasn't as if the Royals deserved a point. They defended doggedly enough but little more, even if Brian McDermott felt they had been let down by a couple of poor refereeing decisions. The real story of the game was one of the poorest City performances of the season, though the Reading manager felt it was the old story of smaller clubs not getting the rub of the green against bigger, more illustrious opponents.
"The goal was an absolute joke," McDermott said. "I asked the referee and he said Barry hung in the air. Well it's easy to do that if you are on someone's back. It was a clear foul and we've had that sort of thing cost us points two or three times this season. I honestly felt we were going to get something from the game, and now my Christmas has been completely spoiled. I'm disappointed for our fans and the players, because we didn't deserve to lose like that."
Roberto Mancini saw things rather differently, claiming the goal was fair and there had been "absolutely no foul". He would say that, but in fact it was a difficult decision for Mike Dean to make, for while Barry jumped for the ball and ended up on Shorey's back, the defender made that possible by staying on the ground and turning his back towards the City player.
It could be said the defender invited Barry to climb over him, and had Dean disallowed the goal there would have been a much bigger squawk from City, who would have demanded to know what Barry had done wrong. "The game is all about opinions," McDermott conceded. "But we should have had a penalty in the second half when Jay Tabb was fouled."
The early signs were not promising for the visitors, as Carlos Tevez played Sergio Aguero clean through with a threaded pass that Adam Federici had to be alert to smother, then Aguero dribbled through the whole of the Reading defence but could not find anyone in the middle with his cross from the byline.
By the mid-point of the first half the game had become a straightforward contest between the imagination of City's massed attackers and the resilience of Reading's packed defence but the hosts were nothing like as slick and purposeful as they had been at Newcastle last week.
Much of their passing was sloppy, with even Silva guilty of giving the ball away, and although Federici was called upon to make a routine save from a Barry header just before the interval the Reading goalkeeper was not given the workout the opening few minutes would have led him to expect.
Mancini resisted the temptation to make changes at half-time, but was soon on the edge of his technical area looking fretful as his players began the second period at just as slow a tempo. As the hour mark approached with the game still scoreless, a crowd beginning to turn restless cheered their approval of Edin Dzeko's introduction from the bench, although the City fans might simply have been relieved to see the back of the peripheral Javi Garcia, always a defensive midfielder too many against a team playing with one man up front.
City were now playing with four up front, and it did not take Dzeko long to go close with a header from a corner, though the home side's lacklustre afternoon was best summed up when Yaya Toure gave the ball away under no pressure whatsoever and earned a caution for flattening Jobi McAnuff after the Reading captain threatened to make the most of the opportunity.
Reading were also denied a possible penalty when Karim Rekik knocked over Tabb in the area. The referee, like both players, appeared to be keeping his eyes on the ball. Scott Sinclair and James Milner were sent on as Mancini tried every attacking option available, but it was a midfielder with his first goal in over a year who secured the points in the end.
After what had gone before, winning in such dramatic fashion gave an extremely ordinary afternoon the feel of a significant victory. Maybe that will be reflected in the table at the end of the season, but City will have to buck up their ideas to make it as close as last time.