A stroke of luck helped the forward hand the Red Devils the lead in a poor first half, before they were able to hold on to the win after the break without moving through the gears
Wayne Rooney opened the scoring with 20 minutes gone but the Red Devils failed to kick on against the Royals in a less-than-entertaining first period.
And the below-par display continued after the break, with both sides failing to threaten the other, meaning Sir Alex Ferguson's men take full advantage of Manchester City's loss to Everton while their manager-less opponents remain in deep trouble at the bottom.
After a sluggish opening 15 minutes or so, Ashley Young collected a fine ball from Rio Ferdinand before flashing a shot narrowly wide of the post in the first half-chance of the clash.
And the center half was again heavily involved as United got the breakthrough with 20 minutes played. Ferdinand expertly carried the ball up from the back, before finding Rooney whose strike deflected off Alex Pearce and looped over Taylor.
Welbeck then dragged a shot wide, with Rooney and Van Persie sending long-range efforts into the keeper's arms, as Ferguson's men comfortably dominated possession but just failed to create any clear chances against a stubborn Royals defense.
Hal-Robson Kanu went inches from an equalizer with a superb, curling left-footed effort from outside the United box, in the visitors' first shot at goal, but the score remained 1-0 at the halftime whistle.
Reading started the second period much brighter and was unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when Nemanja Vidic shoved Adrian Mariappa to the floor in the box.
The Red Devils finally sprung back into action with about an hour played as Welbeck had a strike deflected wide and Van Persie and Young saw efforts rise over the bar.
Taylor then palmed away a powerful Van Persie free-kick as the slight pressure continued, but it only lasted for a matter of minutes before the match returned to its former uninspiring standard.
Reading offered little in attack as it searched for another late goal, and it was in fact the hosts who went closest to a second through a Rooney pile-driver and a neat effort from Giggs in the last five minutes.
Van Persie then also shot acrobatically over the bar very late on before the hosts held firm to grind out another win that puts even more space between them and rival City.