MANCHESTER CITY 1, READING 0
Gareth Barry provided another moment of injury time magic to keep City’s title challenge going after City’s attack minded players were about to finish giftwrapping Reading a point just in time for Christmas with every attack floundering on the visitors defence.
After a challenging but fruitless opening first half, Roberto Mancini was relieved to have the win despite having to wait until deep into added time to take the points with a goal which was hotly disputed by Reading boss Brian McDermott.
“There was no foul.” insisted the Italian after Barry had risen above substitute Nicky Shorey to head the winner.
“I think we deserved to win but when you are in the last two or three minutes in extra time it can be difficult.” explained the Italian who was keen for City to score earlier during games to prevent stressful finishes.
“In a game like this if you don’t score in the first half when you have a chance to score it could be a draw.
“They played very well, for 90 minutes they defended with all players behind the ball. In the end I am happy for this victory but we had big problems.”
Scoring late has become something of a habit for City as it has already become for their neighbours at Old Trafford but once again grinding out a result is seen as the mark of champions – a title that Mancini has already stated this week that he would savour if City won again after starting the weekend six points adrift of their red rivals.
Mancini appreciated the attitude of his players but also paid tribute to their visitors and was at pains to tell his players not to take their threat lightly.
“When you play well but dont score but work hard you can get tired. We are missing a lot of important players. Our players may have looked tired after 60-65 minutes but they kept trying to win until the end.” said Mancini.
“Our attitude was good. We kept our concentration until the end and we tried until the very last second. It’s important to play well like we did in the first half.” he continued.
“I am very happy, but it’s more important to score earlier. My heart is not strong!” laughed the Italian.
“We have improved a lot, now we try to score until the end of the game. We know we can win sometimes.
“I told the guys before the game maybe they concede a lot of goals in the last game but they played very well against Everton.
“Reading have conceded a lot of goals but I knew it would be a difficult game.”
City made a couple of changes after their win at St James’ Park, with Gareth Barry coming in for injured Samir Nasri and 18-year old Karim Rekik making his debut for City at left back in place of Gael Clichy.
City peppered Reading’s defence with chances that simply refused to go in and, as time went on, began to recall tepid forward performances of earlier years.
Matija Nastic, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Javi Garcia, Gareth Barry and Pablo Zabeleta all had chances come and go during the first half while Aguero and a Carlos Tevez free kick tested Reading ‘keeper Adam Federici early in the second half. Substitute Edin Dzeko spurned a couple of chances after coming on before Silva’s header went wide and Aguero had one of two late chances strike the side netting.
Reading offered little goal threat in return aside for a paid of Alex Pearce headers and a Jay Tabb penalty shout which was waved away by the referee after the American went down in the area.
Frustration was clearly growing around the stadium as City fans sensed an impending stalemate before the late drama unfolded.
Reading’s stubborn resistance lasted until the beginning of the last minute of added time at the end of the game when City’s man of the match Pablo Zabaleta fed the ball to David Silva on the left flank. The Spaniard’s lofted cross was met by Gareth Barry at the far post after what seemed like an eternity and the City midfielder rose above substitute Nicky Shorey to head home yet another late goal for the Champions.
Reading protested about a possible foul by Barry on Shorey while added time seemed to be extended long enough for a last ditch all out attack by Reading but a relieved Etihad Stadium erupted upon the final whistle.