If Manchester United go on to win the the Premier League, as they have done on four of the previous five times when they have led the table at the start of December, it will not be a victory built on solid defending.
Like a boxer winning title bouts with one hand tied behind his back, Alex Ferguson's side are doing it the hard way, and the return of captain Nemanja Vidic cannot come soon enough for a defence that was all at sea again.
Multiple-goal thrillers like this are becoming the norm at the Madejski Stadium, but as Wayne Rooney pointed out, while they are great for the spectator, they are "agony" for the coaches. Ferguson joked he might have to play in the derby against Manchester City next Sunday if he side defend as badly as this again.
United had to come from behind to win for the 10th time this season, after goals from Hal Robson-Kanu, Adam Le Fondre and Sean Morrison twice gave Reading the lead. They were all the result of poor defending, but, fortunately for United, a goal from Anderson and two from Rooney got them back in it, and Robin van Persie pounced for the winner – all before 35 minutes had been played.
"Crazy," said Rooney. "Ridiculous," added Ferguson, who was happy to reveal that Vidic could return this week after a knee operation in September.
Darren Fletcher, fit after his long-term absence through illness, says Vidic's return will make a big difference. "He's the club captain and a fantastic defender," said the midfielder. "It's great that we've got Phil Jones and Chris Smalling back (from injury). All these things are going to help us. There's competition for places all over the pitch. "
Fletcher could not explain United's defensive frailty, but admitted: "It's becoming a concern. I think, particularly at set-pieces, it's individual mistakes, which we can try and sort out. We can't keep conceding goals.
"Teams like City will definitely punish any slack defending, so we're going to have to be really on top of our game.
"I think the biggest thing is we keep coming back. I know we keep saying it but it's a lot more disastrous when you don't come back. But we keep responding and that's an important thing. It's a good attribute to have."
Fletcher praised Reading, who never let up. "We felt as if we could score but we also had to be wary of the threat they had at crosses and set-pieces.
"Going into the game we knew that other teams had dropped points so it was a massive chance for us to take advantage and get the three points."
But Fletcher does not think the title race is between the two Mancunian horses.
"I don't think you can rule out Chelsea. They're still up there and so are others. You can't rule out anybody before Christmas."
He is desperate to win next week's derby. "We saw how important it was last season. We lost twice and we lost the league. It was a major factor, so we don't want to give them any advantage and I think it's about time we got a result against them."
City did the double over United last season, winning 6-1 at Old Trafford and 1-0 at the Etihad on their way to securing the league crown on goal difference from their great rivals.
"The derbies were a major factor in that," Fletcher said. "So we don't want to give City any advantage by them winning against us. I think it's about time we got a result against them."
Before that fixture, United play FC Cluj in the Champions League. "We've got to respect the competition and win the match but obviously there'll be one eye on the derby. There's no doubt about that, because of the fact we've qualified. But whoever plays will be desperate to impress the manager."
Reading have their own derby next week against Southampton, who are in the relegation places. Le Fondre said: "We are going to Southampton and if we play like we did today, we will have no problems.
"We showed what we can do by scoring three goals and creating a lot of chances against United. Hopefully we can repeat that against Southampton and Sunderland and score more. We're disappointed with the result but we can take heart from the performance we put in."
Manager Brian McDermott stressed the need to find balance. "We've scored lots, and that's what we have to keep doing. If we can keep doing that and shore up the other end we will be fine. You have to get the balance right." (© Daily Telegraph, London)