Manchester can start planning for a match that, for those involved, will combine hope with dread, bring the winners to the point of euphoria and the losers down to their knees.
City versus United, blue versus red, the two old rivals can look forward to renewing hostilities in an FA Cup semi‑final that will have enormous significance for this divided city.
It will be the first time these feuding neighbours have met at Wembley and, for City, the joy of Micah Richards's winning goal should go much further than setting up another battle of wills with Sir Alex Ferguson's team. It will be their first FA Cup semi-final for 30 years and, for a club of this ambition, it represents another important step in their development under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group. In total, United have featured in 27 semi-finals compared to City's 11, but Roberto Mancini was emboldened enough after this victory to hold his fingers a centimetre apart as he discussed the difference between the two clubs. "It's this much," he said, eyes sparkling.
Richards struck after 74 minutes, directing a firm and precise header beyond the Reading goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy, after David Silva had swung in a corner from the left. Until that point the Championship's 10th-placed side had thwarted their opponents, playing with strength and organisation, but the goal was deserved on the balance of play.
At times, it was a scruffy performance from a City team perhaps showing signs of fatigue after playing six games in 17 days but they were still markedly superior, controlling large swaths of the match, even if it was a performance that was occasionally lacking fluency and pockmarked with misplaced passes.
Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, said afterwards that his team had deserved a draw, which was stretching the point a little, but there was certainly dignity in defeat for the side that had knocked out Everton in the fifth round.
They were compact, organised and frequently made life difficult for their opponents, despite heading north with a squad troubled by considerable injury problems. Yet the last Championship side to be left in the competition were a little too conservative to exert any genuine sense of providing another upset.
Instead, the pressure was virtually all one way and, despite passages when the home crowd grew volubly concerned, there were only sporadic moments when Mancini's team looked vulnerable. Richards's goal prompted a brief flurry from the visitors but, even then, they could not create a single clear opportunity to endanger Joe Hart and produce the goal that would have taken this tie to a replay.
Instead, a jaded City stuck manfully to the task of wearing down their opponents even in those moments when their frustrations were obvious. There were groans in the stands and, in the midst of a performance of hard running but little end-product, a riled Carlos Tevez was guilty of a sly stamp on Zurab Khizanishvili. At one point the referee, Lee Probert, summoned Tevez and ran his finger along the "Respect" motif on his shirt, but City's leading scorer was not punished for an offence that angered the Reading players.
Tevez was otherwise a constant menace to the visiting defence. Yaya Touré's driving runs from midfield were another feature and Shaun Wright-Phillips worked hard on his return to the team. David Silva, as is increasingly the case, was the hub of most positive City moves, the Spaniard playing the ball long and short, always seeking gaps in the visiting defence and exploiting the space between midfield and attack.
Reading defended ably, with Khizanishvili standing out and their two central midfielders, Jay Tabb and Mikele Leigertwood, working tirelessly to close down their opponents. Nonetheless, City still created several presentable chances before Richards's goal, with Wright-Phillips, Silva and Tevez aiming their shots straight at McCarthy.
The mood was becoming increasingly tense by the time Richards advanced for the decisive corner. The defender's credentials in the opposition penalty area were a feature of his early days in the team but have not been witnessed so much in the last couple of seasons. This was a prodigious leap, with a twisting header that went in off McCarthy's outstretched hand.
The celebrations at the final whistle were a mixture of jubilation and relief. And the last time City played United in the semi-finals? That was 1926 when they won 3-0 at Bramall Lane only to lose by a single goal to Bolton Wanderers in the final.
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