LONDON: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini will be hoping a new air of togetherness can help his team pile the pressure on Manchester United with a win over Reading.
City are six points behind Premier League leaders United after a 3-2 defeat against Sir Alex Ferguson's side earlier this month.
The champions responded to that setback with an impressive 3-1 win at Newcastle last weekend to keep pace with United, but even that success was quickly tempered by off-field distractions.
"I think that we worked really well because when I arrived here three years ago I didn't think that maybe in two years we would win the Premier League and FA Cup.
"I thought that maybe four or five years to win the Premier League because it isn't easy to change things in England and Manchester in particular because for 20 or 30 years United won everything and we changed this because we did well.
Italy striker Mario Balotelli threatened to take City to a Premier League tribunal as he attempted to avoid paying a fine of two weeks wages for his poor disciplinary record last season. But hours before the hearing Balotelli, who was dropped for the Newcastle match, agreed to pay the fine.
Happy with Balotelli
The club are now hoping the episode is behind them as they set their sights on a second successive league title and Mancini insists the controversial forward still has a future at the club.
"We need to have all the players this month as we have a lot of games in two weeks. Mario needs to train," Mancini said.
"I don't think he was happy about it (being dropped for the Newcastle game), when he starts to show his quality, he will play again."Since the Manchester derby defeat, Mancini has been adamant that there is still plenty of time to overhaul United. He is sure that the return of the Champions League, where Ferguson's side face Real Madrid in the last 16, will have a positive effect on his own team's Premier League prospects.
But City also acknowledge that there can be no more slips over the weeks ahead. United have a reasonable run of matches, at Swansea, at home to Newcastle and West Brom before travelling to Wigan, over the festive period.
And City know that they cannot lose further ground over their four matches against the struggling Royals, at Sunderland and Norwich and at home to Stoke. City defender Gael Clichy admitted his side's approach has been rightly criticised at times this season, but believes the performance at St James' Park signalled a significant improvement.
"People expect better from City but so do we, one game (against United) is not changing anything but what we have learned from last season is that six points, eight points, ten points is nothing at this stage." Captain Vincent Kompany should return from a hamstring problem against Reading, but Samir Nasri, Aleksander Kolarov, James Milner and Micah Richards will all miss out, while Jack Rodwell is out until the new year after suffering a set back with his own hamstring injury.
Brian McDermott, meanwhile, has called on his Reading players to keep believing despite their miserable run of form. The Royals sank even further into trouble after being thrashed 5-2 at home by Arsenal on Monday.
McDermott's men are bottom of the table and find themselves six points from safety with almost half of the season already gone. But after sealing promotion in May following a blistering second half of the campaign which saw them pick up an astonishing 34 points from 39, the Reading boss expects his team to turn their season around in the New Year.