If there is one bubble seemingly ripe to burst it is Manchester City. The combination of the calamity kings and Sven Goran Eriksson has looked destined for a pratfall all season, but the odd coupling have been confounding expectation all season and they did so again yesterday. By the skin of their teeth.
With the game well into stoppage time, City appeared to be about to surrender the last 100 per cent home record in the Premier League when Stephen Ireland volleyed in the winner. Eriksson must be odds-on favourite to be England manager now surely? Maybe not.
Certainly the Swede is reaping some of the luck that shunned him when he was England coach because Reading were desperately unfortunate to leave Eastlands with nothing. They arrived here having shipped 19 goals in their previous five away League matches and, reinforced by the clever tactics of their manager Steve Coppell, they had matched the home team for 90 minutes. Then Ireland struck.
"I feel like lucky Sven again," Eriksson said. "I feel very, very happy." Meanwhile Coppell was gloomy where the Swede was delighted. "We feel robbed," he said, "just when we thought we were going to get something out of an away game."
Coppell would have been hard-pressed to be expectant after 10 minutes when City took the lead with a goal that would have had critics of the influx of foreigners into the Premiership snarling with frustration.
Vedran Corluka's pass sliced through the Reading rearguard, Ireland crossed, Elano hit the post and after Emile Mpenza's shot was blocked, Martin Petrov thumped in the rebound. The goal involved a Croat, an Irishman, a Brazilian, a Belgian and a Bulgarian, with the English notable for their absence.
Which is not to say the home country had no influence at all. Coppell, who was endorsed as a potential successor to Steve McClaren after the game – "He's calm, sensible and has been an international player" – employed Chelmsford's James Harper as a man-to-man marker of Elano and, with their playmaker cramped for space, City's bright start petered out. So much so that Reading got an equaliser in the 42nd minute.
The visitors had barely figured as an attacking force but with City becoming casual, Reading broke down the left and when Dave Kitson got a lucky bounce off a defender he passed to Bobby Convey, who touched the ball on to the edge of the area. There was Harper, released from his marking duties, and he hit the ball into the roof of the net with his left foot.
The effect of the goal lingered beyond half-time and City's confidence of the first 40 minutes was replaced by circumspection. Even so, Ireland fired across the Reading goal after a clever turn and substitute Georgios Samaras was fractions away from making contact with Javier Garrido's cross after 53 minutes.
The flow was missing, however, and with Elano labouring thanks to Harper's attentions, he was replaced by his compatriot Geovanni, whose first touch was a run and shot from 25 yards that scraped the bar after 58 minutes.
City were even closer as the game drifted into stoppage time when Dietmar Hamann's exquisite pass found Geovanni in the penalty area. The Brazilian controlled the ball deftly with his chest and, with the goal at his mercy, he lobbed the ball wastefully over the bar.
All over for City? Certainly a lot of their supporters thought so because there was a long snake of them leaving as the game reached its climax. Jihai Sun hit a long ball forward in the manner of England on Wednesday, Samaras won one header and Geovanni the next. The ball bounced across the area and Ireland accepted the invitation by smashing the ball into the net. For Ireland, who has had his moments of controversy for both club and country this season, it was an act of redemption.
"We gave him the job of outside right at the start," Eriksson said, "but towards the end he came inside as a second striker. He's a young talent and maybe that will become his best position. One thing is for sure, he will be around for a long time."Reuse content