x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Manchester City 1 Reading 0

Manager Roberto Mancini is impressed by English Premier League club's character after Gareth Barry goal breaks resistance from visitors.

Manchester City's Gareth Barry scores a header past Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici. Julian Finney / Getty Images;
Manchester City's Gareth Barry scores a header past Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici. Julian Finney / Getty Images;

MANCHESTER // There were few more fitting ways to bring 2012 to a close at the Etihad Stadium.

This will go down in Manchester City history as the year of the injury-time goal.

It was Sergio Aguero in May, delivering the strike that won them a first title in 44 years, and it was Gareth Barry today, delivering victory against Reading.

Joy was unconfined on that remarkable May day, relief apparent everywhere as the frustration that built up in 90 minutes of Reading resistance disappeared in a moment when Barry climbed high above Nicky Shorey and met David Silva's cross with a towering header.

It was frustration for Reading, convinced Barry had fouled Shorey when heading past Adam Federici and believing they should have earned a penalty when Karim Rekik collided with Jay Tabb in the box, but delight and respite for City.

They are now only three points adrift of Manchester United. A side whose spirit, unity and determination have been questioned time and again find ways of providing new answers.

The latest came in the 93rd minute. "My heart," said Roberto Mancini, reflecting on a team who send the blood pumping through his veins with their capacity for the dramatic. "Our character is so strong. In this we have improved a lot."

And yet Reading, despite suffering a seventh successive defeat, could reflect on a show of character themselves. "We have a love for this club and a passion and we will fight," said their manager Brian McDermott, who branded the goal: "An absolute joke". There is a school of thought that decisions go against the teams at the foot of the league and McDermott is a believer.

He said: "We have had that a few times this season and the Tabb penalty was a penalty. We have had a few of those: a handball goal against us and an offside goal and they have cost us."

They came within minutes of ripping up the form book. On paper, a home game against the division's bottom side is the easiest match of the season. Reading set about ensuring that was not the case.

Pavel Pogrebnyak had said he feared a 10-goal thrashing. The Royals had conceded five goals against Arsenal on Monday and had allowed opponents more than 300 attempts at their goal this season. Belatedly, they set about shutting up shop.

Reading had incorporated a fifth midfielder, in the recalled Jem Karacan, and dropped a striker as part of McDermott's move to bolster the spine of his side after they were far too open in the 5-2 thrashing by Arsenal. A policy of safety in numbers may have been their only chance but it was one they pursued with great vigour and determination.

City, as Mancini accepted, needed an early goal. They did not get one, coming closest when Carlos Tevez drilled his shot at Adam Federici after being sent clear by Aguero's lovely lay-off. Thereafter Barry met Tevez's cross with a bullet header but directed it straight at Federici and Silva and Pablo Zabaleta came close with deflected efforts.

As frustration mounted, Mancini sent for his usual rescue act, but this was not Edin Dzeko's day. He headed over and, as City's need for a goal grew more pressing, Mancini made a move he rarely does: he brought on Scott Sinclair, the forgotten man of the Etihad Stadium.

On their rare attacks, Reading had their opportunities. Alex Pearce was left unmarked to meet Ian Harte's corner, but headed way over the bar.

Then, on a quick counter-attack, they briefly outnumbered City. Jimmy Kebe squared the ball for Pogrebnyak but as the striker shot, Kolo Toure slid in to deflect it to Joe Hart while Tabb, bouncing off the debutant Rekik, hit the turf.

But while Silva and Aguero spurned late chances, City write the same end to their scripts, time and again. And when injury time arrived, Barry took on Aguero's role as the last-gasp saviour.

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