A City side backed by over 3,000 travelling fans were stung by a last-gasp winner from Nick Blackman at Reading.
The visitors battled and at times outplayed their hosts, but chances came and went at both ends before Blackman stroked in a heartbreaking late goal that summed up City’s festive fortunes.
Steve Cotterill made one enforced change to his starting line-up, as Derrick Williams’ absence with a knee injury paved the way for Joe Bryan to return at left wing-back.
The visitors would start brightly and were quick to pressurise the Reading players into mistakes, with Aaron Wilbraham and Jonathan Kodjia rushing the home defenders at every opportunity.
City would come close to an opener inside the first 30 seconds when Bryan’s low cross was cleared only to Luke Freeman, who took a touch and drilled a low shot into the side-netting from 15 yards.
The Royals came into the game on a rotten run of form, having lost six of their previous seven fixtures, and that brittle confidence was evident when Matej Vydra failed to hit the target when put clean through on goal.
With only Frank Fielding in his way, the usually reliable striker poked wide and City survived an early scare.
Seconds later, Marlon Pack displayed his vision to send Kodjia off in a footrace with Paul McShane, twisting and turning away from the Irishman before pulling the ball across goal in what looked more like an attempt to pick out Wilbraham rather than a shot towards the far corner.
It was entertaining stuff. Reading twice threatened from successive corners, with Pack throwing his body on the line to make a crucial block before Vydra blazed over at the back post.
The hosts would have another sight of goal when awarded a handily-placed free kick on the edge of the City box after 20 minutes, inviting Oliver Norwood to step up and curl a shot just fractionally past the post.
But Reading boss Brian McDermott was dealt a blow when he lost his skipper, McShane, to injury on 31 minutes, while Cotterill suffered in similar circumstances as Nathan Baker hobbled off to be replaced by Liam Moore shortly before half-time.
There was still time for Vydra to force Fielding into the first save of the match before the interval, latching on to a loose ball with a snapshot from 12 yards repelled by the goalkeeper’s legs – another chance you would normally expect to be buried by the Czech Republic international who has scored so freely in a Watford shirt in recent seasons.
The frantic opening to the first period was replicated in the second, starting with Stephen Quinn’s cross from the left punched by Fielding straight to Orlando Sa, who regained his composure before shooting against the sliding Pack.
Meanwhile, Vydra had another sniff of a chance moments later, heading Chris Gunter’s cross straight into the arms of the City number one, before the visitors enjoyed a positive spell of their own.
The typically energetic Elliott Bennett twice carried the ball into promising positions, drilling the ball wide of Ali Al Habsi’s right-hand post before clipping a cross towards the far post where substitute Anton Ferdinand stretched to head clear.
City, shooting towards their army of fans behind Al Habsi’s goal, had their tails up. Wilbraham released the tireless Kodjia, who again jinked one way then the other before seeing his low cross cleared from tap-in territory.
At the other end, the hapless Vydra was caught on his heels when Gunter scuffed a shot across goal but not quite into his path, while Kodjia was flagged marginally offside as he lobbed the ball over Al Habsi and into the net from Bennett’s perfectly weighted pass.
It seemed one point would be the worst case scenario for City, who finished strongly, but Blackman found space on the break, stepped inside and finished coolly with a precise finish on his deadly left foot to win the game one minute into added time.