Gareth Barry drilled a header past Reading keeper Adam Federici in extra time to seize a 1-0 victory for Manchester City at the Etihad.
While the end result was thrilling for City partisans, the match itself was one-sided and relatively uneventful. By the end, the only real question was whether Reading could hold City off the board until the final whistle.
But just because it is boring to watch and not a great advertisement for the Beautiful Game does not mean Reading manager Brian McDermott did wrong. After the Royals were blasted 5-2 on their own ground by Arsenal at mid-week, an attacking plan against City might have invited another bloodbath.
Instead, Reading played most of the match with nine men fanned about the penalty area and just outside it, with only Pavel Pogrebnyak given leave to run forward if the opportunity came (which it rarely did).
Reading's abjectly-defensive stance worked, right up to the moment where David Silva's cross found a lunging Barry in the box. Goal, City win, normal service restored.
Grading City's players is usually a joy, but there is no use aiming to deceive in this holiday season: the Sky Blues' effort on the whole was pretty non-descript, and despite Barry saving the day, the side as a whole had a forgettable day.
Credit that in part to City boss Roberto Mancini, who (wisely, in the big picture) fielded a side with debutant Karim Rekik at left back and Matija Nastasic—now a mainstay—anchoring the center backfield with the ever-uninspiring Kolo Toure. Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott watched from the bench.
Mancini knows that he will never win the league running his best XI into the ground. With Reading figuring to play so defensively on the road, this was a day of all days to rest some regulars in the back half.
Players are graded on a scale of one (socks and underwear under the Christmas tree) to five (Kate Upton in socks and underwear under the Christmas tree.)
The clean sheet is nice, certainly, but Hart only faced one shot on target (five total.) His less-than-assured reaction to the very late corner that Reading earned after City had taken the lead did not instill confidence. 3.
If you had to name a player of the season's first half, Zabaleta might be the choice. Two-way backs in name only can be found, but rare is the man like Zabaleta who plays well at both ends of the pitch. To the extent that City created chances today, Zabaleta was frequently involved. 3.5.
Some people (ahem) do not much care to watch him play, and maybe his inclusion in the lineup today was the right move given City's need to conserve Kompany's energy and get him 100% healthy. No point in penalizing Kolo for any of that. Today he was solid, not spectacular. He did his job well. 3.
Nastasic's emergence as an every-match choice for Mancini has been a pleasant surprise in the last month or so. Javi Garcia was thought to be the prize of the prior transfer window, but Nastasic has had far more impact on the team's fortunes. As with Kolo Toure, this was not a star turn for Nastasic today, but then sometimes doing your job as a center back means not being noticed much. 3.
So how did the kid do? Well enough. Rekik was predictably a bit nervous at the outset, but as the match wore on (and Reading did not threaten much), he settled in. Jack Rodwell is likely envious of a player whose early impression as a City player is so indifferent given how miserable Rodwell's tenure as a Sky Blue has been. 2.5.
Playing in the midfield with Yaya Toure and David Silva must make Javi Garcia feel like Krist Novoselic sometimes. Yeah, you're in the band, but unless something weird happens, you are not going to be noticed. Nothing too weird happened today. 2.
In defense of Yaya, his game is surging through thickets of midfield defenders and creating chances. When the opposition effectively cedes the midfield and plays back, Yaya's gifts get a bit stifled. In further defense of Yaya, when the opposition plays as Reading did, it is not properly his job to break the defense down. So this is a low grade, but with acknowledgment that it is not all Yaya's fault. 2.5.
Along that line of thinking, in a match like this one, it is absolutely Silva's responsibility to pick locks and create a tap-in or gimme header. Until the death, he was not particularly successful at it against Reading. But when you assist on the match-winner, you cannot be graded harshly. 3.
Like Silva, Barry rescued a desultory day with a bit of brilliance at the end. The suggestion that Barry fouled in climbing over a Reading defender's shoulder to get to Silva's cross is silly. Barry just got there, much to Mancini's relief. 3.
Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez
The striking tandem shares a paragraph and a grade because while they were both industrious and effective, neither man scored. When City plays a side as passive as Reading was, at the Etihad, one of these two needs to find the net. Not today. 2.5 apiece.
Edin Dzeko (59th minute for Garcia)
Maybe Mancini should have brought Dzeko on later. Given 30-plus minutes rather than his normal 10, Dzeko struggled to find a place up front—both with Tevez on the pitch and even after Tevez was substituted. Dzeko does not need to score to be effective, but it would not hurt. 2.
Scott Sinclair (75th minute for Tevez) and James Milner (84th minute for Rekik)
Neither late substitute made much of an impact. No grade.