The forward's dramatic winner edged a tense, hard-fought encounter against a stoic Reading outfit to lift Gareth Taylor's side above Chelsea in the table with just four games remaining.
Despite dominating possession and creating a hatful of opportunities, the hosts had looked to be left rueing missed chances but a moment of magic from Lauren Hemp to carve the decisive moment extended our impressive league winning streak to 11 games and issue a real statement of our title credentials.
We Fight 'til the end
In the build-up to the clash - a Saturday evening encounter in celebration of Women's Football Weekend - Taylor had called for a positive reaction and quick start, following the midweek Champions League setback against Barcelona, and City almost bagged an opener inside six minutes, as Rose Lavelle forced Grace Moloney into an excellent fingertip stop.
Caroline Weir and Rose Lavelle then curled over the bar, while Lucy Bronze and Weir were both thwarted by the Reading shot-stopper, as the hosts piled on the pressure in the opening 20 minutes, carving openings with some fine one-touch build-up.
Earning the Player of the Match award for her impressive display in Italy in midweek, Ellie Roebuck enjoyed a quieter afternoon but was called into action to deny Amalie Eikeland with an outstretched leg on 27 minutes.
Georgia Stanway then spurned a great chance to open the scoring, poking Kelly’s delivery wide of the post from a matter of yards out, and the winger’s pace created another opening five minutes before the break – only to result in Hemp’s first-time effort crashing back off the post!
Demi Stokes and Lavelle also saw efforts saved by Moloney in the last major action of the half, while a powerful Stanway attempt also suffered the same fate in the early exchanges of the second period.
Substitute Mewis, who had rescued a point in the away encounter back in October, then watched in agony as a header struck the foot of the post, while Weir uncharacteristically blazed wide late on.
Moloney then somehow clawed Weir's cross-shot wide of the post, as City pressed for another late winner - as time looked to be running out for the hosts.
Yet, as was the case in the last home triumph over Everton, City's pressure finally told with three minutes of normal time remaining, as Hemp danced into the Reading penalty area before crossing for Kelly to convert and steal a pivotal win.
It is said that the ability to grind out results when the chips are down stamps the hallmark of Champions and as our recent league form has shown, City are certainly portraying the characteristics of title-winners.
What it means
City move one point above Chelsea in the FA WSL table with 45 points from 18 games.
The top two meet at the end of April, while the Londoners have a game in hand, facing Aston Villa on Sunday.
How we lined up...
Taylor made three changes from our midweek Champions League quarter-final first leg, as Demi Stokes made her first start since her return from injury. Meanwhile, Lavelle also replaced compatriot Mewis in midfield, and Stanway was selected lead the line in place of Ellen White.
Roebuck took her place in goal, shielded by a back four of Lucy Bronze, Abby Dahlkemper, Alex Greenwood and Stokes. Keira Walsh occupied her defensive midfield role, with Lavelle and Weir completing the midfield three.
Kelly and Hemp were employed on the wings, flanking Stanway, in the offensive trident.
CITY XI | Roebuck, Bronze, Dahlkemper, Greenwood, Stokes (Morgan 59'), Walsh (C), Lavelle (Mewis 62'), Weir, Kelly, Hemp, Stanway (White 68')
SUBS | Taieb, Coombs, Mannion, Beckie, Davies, Park
READING XI | Moloney, Leine, Cooper, Harding (C), Woodham, Rowe (Harries 82'), James, Fishlock, Williams (Carter 68'), Eikeland
SUBS | Nayler, Roberts, Childerhouse, Flores, Jeon
Player of the Match: Chloe Kelly
At the heart of City's best attacking moves throughout, the winger was unfortunate not to add another assist to her impressive tally - but earned deserved reward for her display with her first goal in ten games.
The forward carved plenty of opportunities for her teammates, utilising her lightning pace and trickery, and was in the right place at the right time to bag the all-important winner.
• City have won 11 consecutive FA Women’s Super League matches - our best ever return. In the competition’s history, there have only been two longer winning runs – a 12-game run by Arsenal ending in November 2018, and an 11-game run by Arsenal ending in September 2019.
• Chloe Kelly's winner marked the winger's 10th goal of the season in all competitions.
• Caroline Weir clocked her 50th WSL appearance for City.
City return to Champions League action on Wednesday 31 March (16:00 UK time), looking to overturn a 3-0 deficit from the first leg for a place in the semi-finals.
Taylor's side then travel to Tottenham Hotspur in the FA WSL on Sunday 4 April (14:00 UK time) before the team head off on international duty.
News about Man City v Reading
Kelly: Wins like this show what we’re capable of
Chloe Kelly believes the character, grit and determination shown in City's hard-fought 1-0 win over Reading portrayed the hallmark of Champions. Read more.
Match highlights: City 1-0 Reading
City produced another thrilling late show at the Academy Stadium, as Chloe Kelly's 87th-minute strike snatched a crucial three points in the FA Women's Super League title race. Watch more.
City 1-0 Reading: Full match replay
Watch the full 90 minutes of City's dramatic FA Women's Super League win over Reading on CITY+ Watch more.
Walsh: We're Man City, we fight 'til the end!
Keira Walsh says Saturdays dramatic win over Reading characterised City's never-say-die attitude and elite winning mentality. Read more.
Taylor: Hemp is a top talent
Gareth Taylor hailed Lauren Hemp’s ‘exceptional’ talent, after the flying forward produced another influential performance in City’s dramatic 1-0 win over Reading. Read more.