Gareth Barry's late goal spared Manchester City's blushes as it edged out bottom side Reading 1-0 at a relieved Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Roberto Mancini's side trailed local rivals and current league leaders Manchester United by six points in the title race heading into the weekend, and City appeared to be at risk of losing more ground thanks to a dogged defensive effort from the Royals.
City created numerous chances in a mostly one-sided affair completed in heavy rain but the visitors looked set to hold firm.
But Barry rose to head home in stoppage time from David Silva's cross to trim United's lead to three points before its clash with Swansea on Sunday.
"I think we deserved to win but when you are in the last two or three minutes of extra time, it could be difficult," Mancini said. "These games, if you don't score in the first half when you have a lot of chances to score, I think they can be strong.
"They played well, they defended well, for 90 minutes with all players behind the ball. We didn't find space to score. When you have one chance, you have to score. In the end, I am happy with the victory but we had a big problem."
City was so dominant that 18-year-old Karim Rekik, making his Premier League debut at left back in the absence of Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov, was able to get through the match mostly untested.
The centre back pairing of Kolo Toure and Matija Nastasic, while senior duo Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott looked on from the bench, also had a largely comfortable afternoon.
Carlos Tevez led the pressing attack after halftime but Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici pushed away Tevez' curling free-kick effort from the top corner.
Reading could have snatched a shock lead when Alex Pearce got forward to win a clear header from an Ian Harte corner but his effort was well wide.
Mancini decided it was time for change and sent on Edin Dzeko for the mostly ineffective Javi Garcia. The Bosnian was quickly into the action and was millimetres away from connecting with a header after good work by Pablo Zabaleta.
Dzeko did win a clean header at a corner on 66 minutes but his attempt flew narrowly over the bar.
Mancini made another change as Scott Sinclair came on for Tevez, but it was Reading who next threatened as Pavel Pogrebnyak broke and crossed for Jay Tabb. Tabb went down after colliding with Rekik but referee Mike Dean did not feel there was a foul and nor did he see a possible handball against Nastasic as the ball came in.
Reading grew in confidence and and Pearce headed another good chance wide after Jimmy Kebe had won a corner with a good break down the right.
As the game moved into four minutes of injury time, City launched a final push. Aguero fired into the side-netting but Barry came good as he jumped above the defence to reach Silva's ball and head firmly past Federici.
Reading manager Brian McDermott felt Barry illegally jumped on the back of one of his players as he leapt to reach Silva's cross but Dean saw nothing untoward.
"Absolute joke. We have had that a few times this season and even the Tabb penalty -- it was a penalty," McDermott said. "We have had three or four of those, we have had a handball goal against us and an offside goal against us -- all of which have cost us points. To get that wrong -- I have just said to (Dean) he will be gutted he's missed that.
"He hung in the air, but you can hang in the air all day long if you are on someone's back. It's an absolute cert foul, it cannot be anything else."
A seventh successive defeat was harsh on Reading, which was much more resilient after slumping 5-2 to Arsenal on Monday.
Elsewhere, Everton moved back into the top four as it came from behind to beat West Ham at Upton Park.
Carlton Cole fired the Hammers into the lead, just moments after the Toffees had seen a Leon Osman effort ruled out after Victor Anichebe was judged to have fouled Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Anichebe leveled after the break before Cole was sent off for a high challenge on Leighton Baines.
Everton capitalized as Steven Pienaar grabbed the winner and the visitors held out after Darron Gibson was dismissed late on.
Managers Sam Allardyce and David Moyes were united in their condemnation of referee Anthony Taylor after he controversially sent off one player from both sides. Cole and Gibson both face three-match bans if their appeals fail.
Norwich saw its 10-game unbeaten run come to an end as it lost 2-1 to West Brom.
Robert Snodgrass' free kick gave the Canaries the lead, but goals from Zoltan Gera and Romelu Lukaku ensured it was the Baggies who took the three points at The Hawthorns.
"Romelu has done well, he is a big talent, he has got a big future ahead of him in the game," West Brom boss Steve Clarke said. "The fact he couldn't get in the team for most of the season is down to the form of Shane Long who shouldn't be forgotten today."
Substitute Shola Ameobi gave Newcastle a valuable win over QPR. The striker got the only goal of the game after being teed up by Sylvain Marveaux.
"He could have taken the shot with his right foot, which is his stronger foot, but to have that composure in that area is first-class," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said.
Sunderland also claimed an important 1-0 win as it came out on top at Southampton, with Steven Fletcher grabbing the winner from Stephane Sessegnon's mishit shot just before half time.
Tottenham and Stoke played out a goalless draw.
Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas, whose side faces Aston Villa on Boxing Day, was not happy at seeing his team slip below Arsenal on goal difference.
"No one enjoys being level on points with Arsenal at this club," Villas-Boas said.
Information from Press Association was used in this report.