Robbie Keane's first-half goal left Reading in the bottom three of the Premier League and staring relegation in the face.
Keane's strike after 16 minutes was enough to secure a rare away victory for Tottenham – only their third in the league this season. But the result was far more significant for Steve Coppell's team, who have failed to score in their last six league fixtures.
The Royals can draw consolation from the fact that they face already-relegated Derby at Pride Park on the final day of the season (May 11), where they will realistically need to win to have a chance of survival.
Coppell would have been relieved to see Dimitar Berbatov missing from the Tottenham starting line-up, the Bulgarian having scored six goals against them this season.
Berbatov was sidelined with a groin injury, and was replaced by Darren Bent, while Tom Huddlestone replaced Aaron Lennon.
For Reading, Emerse Fae and Ibrahima Sonko were left out of the matchday squad after being suspended by the club for missing a reserve game, as Coppell named an unchanged starting XI.
Reading had failed to score in their last five matches, and their nerves became even more frayed when Keane put Spurs in front.
Referee Howard Webb played a clever advantage after Keane had been tripped by Michael Duberry, allowing the Irishman to get to his feet and trick his way past Liam Rosenior and Kevin Doyle before slipping the ball beyond Marcus Hahnemann for the opening goal, his 23rd of a highly successful campaign.
Spurs' poor away form was belied by a first-half display that exuded confidence, and Reading were lucky still to be in touch at the interval.
Their only chance of the first half came just after Keane's goal, when Leroy Lita shot wide from a difficult angle.
Spurs, by contrast, continued to create opportunities. Steed Malbranque had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside after Keane had released him, while Keane tested Hahnemann with a free-kick from 25 yards and also saw an effort blocked by Rosenior.
Reading knew a defeat could put a huge dent in their survival hopes, but Spurs continued to look the likelier scorers.
Bent sent a free header straight at Hahnemann, shortly before Keane mis-kicked inside the penalty area, allowing the ball to run free to Malbranque.
The Frenchman looked odds-on to score, but somehow fired into the side netting, wasting an excellent chance to double his team's lead.
Reading finally started to look livelier, and Andre Bikey's well-struck shot from 18 yards was deflected just wide by Huddlestone for a corner to the home team.
Spurs, however, still appeared far more threatening an attacking force, with Bent shooting against the inside of the post from just outside the penalty area with 15 minutes remaining.
Reading began to gain more ground on the visitors, with their best effort to equalise coming from Rosenior, whose shot was saved by Radek Cerny.
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