A controversial Gareth Barry injury-time winner sealed the three points for Manchester City in a match where Reading were unlucky not to emerge with a point.
Brian McDermott made four changes from last Monday's 5-2 defeat at home to Arsenal with defenders Chris Gunter, Ian Harte and Alex Pearce coming in for Shaun Cummings, Nicky Shorey and Kaspars Gorkss while the fit again Jem Karacan replaced Noel Hunt which saw a switch to a 4-5-1 formation.
As expected the hosts enjoyed much of the possession and were on the attack from the very beginning with Carlos Tevez testing Adam Federici after a neat knockdown from Sergio Aguero. England midfielder Gareth Barry also came close with a header but his effort was comfortably saved in the hands of Federici.
For Reading, although they saw few first-half opportunities come their way no one could fault the commitment or effort of the players who worked tirelessly for one another and for their manager who had come under fire in the week.
The surprising appearance of Ian Harte allowed for quality set-piece deliveries and his corner early in the second-half saw Alex Pearce rise at the far post only to see his header drift wide. It had been Reading's best chance of the match.
City continued to press for a goal with the introductions of Dzeko and Sinclair as Reading continued to frustrate their opponents with a methodical game plan which was working. The game's first major talking point with referee Mike Dean came with 15 minutes to play. The impressive Pogrebnyak broke down the left wing after a mistake by Kolo Toure and his pass failed to reach the feet of the incoming Jay Tabb who was bundled over inside the penalty area by Rekik. The team were aggrieved and for Tabb it proved to be the third match this season where he had been denied a stonewall penalty.
Mancini's side never threw in the towel and they got their rewards their possession of play had deserved with a 92nd minute winner. Milner's diagonal ball forward fell to the feet of Dzeko just outside the Reading penalty area before laying off a pass on the left wing to Zabaleta who found David Silva inside him before his cross fell at the back post for Barry to head in despite climbing on the upper body of substitute Nicky Shorey who had replaced Ian Harte. It was a cruel blow to the Royals who had defended admirably and restored a lot faith and pride after a less than convincing previous run of results.
Dean's decision infuriated McDermott post game and it was understandable given Barry had used Shorey's upper body to gain the leverage. However Shorey was static in his positioning and had he stood his ground fully he would have seen the ball away for safety.
Despite the result, there were positives to be had out of the game. For 91 minutes the Premier League champions had failed to breakdown a Reading defence who had conceded eight goals in their previous two matches. The change in formation allowed Reading to defend deep with the back four in particular staying tight as they looked to stop City from playing balls inside the middle. The work-rate of the team as a whole was exceptional throughout the side.
McDermott appeared to put previous grievances aside with Pearce recalled to the starting line-up in place of Gorkss. Last season's player of the year was in excellent form as he led by example and marshalled the defence. His contract issue remains unresolved and with Zambian defender Stoppila Sunzu closing in on a move, Pearce could be entering the final months of his career at the club.
The return to fitness of Jem Karacan is a timely boost ahead of the busy Christmas period after two months out injured. His second-half replacement Danny Guthrie made his first appearance since he refused to travel to Sunderland just 11 days previously. Neat in possession, the former Newcastle midfielder will hope to force his way into the team.
His comments to the press after the Arsenal game caught the attention of everyone but Jimmy Kebe done his talking on the pitch with an outstanding display both in attack and in defence. He was a threat on the break the few times Reading had the ball and Kebe was not afraid to do his fair share of defensive responsibilities.
And although Pogrebnyak hasn't made the impact we had all hoped his performance and work-rate on Saturday couldn't be faulted as the lone striker.
The defeat leaves the Royals bottom of the Premier League for Christmas Day although they can put things right early starting with three points against Swansea on Boxing Day at the Madejski.
Reading: A Federici, C Gunter, I Harte (N Shorey 86), A Pearce, A Mariappa, J Kebe, J McAnuff, J Karacan (D Guthrie 70), M Legiertwood, J Tabb, P Pogrebnyak.
SUBS NOT USED: S Taylor, K Gorkss, H Robson-Kanu, A Le Fondre, N Hunt.
Manchester City: J Hart, P Zabaleta, K Toure, N Nastastic, K Rekik (Milner 84), J Garcia (E Dzeko 58), G Barry, D Silva, Y Toure, S Aguero, C Tevez (S Sinclair 74).
SUBS NOT USED: R Wright, V Kompany, J Lescott, A Razak.