Suddenly Reading are upwardlymobile, moving from third-bottom to a heady 13th after recording their only back-to-back wins in the Premier League all season. They will head for a training camp in Spain today in good heart, leaving City wondering what has happened to their hopes of Europe.
To make matters worse for the visitors, their captain, Richard Dunne, needed nine stitches in his shin after a first-half collision with the irrepressible Stephen Hunt. There was no malice on Hunt's part; if anything, Dunne put more into the tackle with his Ireland international team-mate.
City's manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, said it would be 10 days before the stitches were removed, but he will have to repair City's wounded pride quicker than that. After a bright opening to the season, Eriksson's team are heading in the wrong direction, with one win in eight League games.
In Cheltenham week, there was an Irish theme as City fell to a second-half goal by Shane Long, which was set up by Kevin Doyle in front of Giovanni Trapattoni's assistants, Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady. Dave Kitson, a late substitute for Long, hit a second two minutes from the end.
An unusually upbeat Coppell claimed he "still has Tardelli's signature on my arse" after a Cup-Winners' Cup clash between Manchester United and Juventus. These days his ambitions are not quite so high. "Forty points is our target and I feel we can get there," added Coppell, whose team stopped an eight-game losing streak at Middlesbrough last weekend. "It's very congested down the bottom. Now we have to put a run of results together."
Eriksson did have loftier ambitions, but they are fading. "There is no point talking about Europe until we start winning football games again," he said. This has not been a happy hunting ground for the Swede; his only other appearance as a manager here was an embarrassing 2-1 defeat by Belarus in an England B international in 2006.
City's best chance fell to the right-back Vedran Corluka after 25 minutes, but he lifted the ball over the bar from Elano's free-kick. The visitors also had penalty claims in the first half when Michael Johnson went down under challenges from James Harper and Ivar Ingimarsson. Uriah Rennie saw things differently and booked the City midfielder after the second incident. "They were both penalties," Eriksson said.
For Reading, Marek Matejovsky had a decent shot saved by Joe Hart and Long missed a presentable chance with his head from John Oster's cross.
Yet a sustained period of home pressure after the interval yielded reward when Long gave them a deserved lead. City had barely recovered from seeing Andre Bikey's close-range shot cannon off the bar when Marcus Hahnemann sent a long kick deep into their half. Long met the ball and flicked it on to Doyle, who had advanced down the left, and his precise centre was turned inside Hart's near-post with a first-time finish by Long. It was his third goal in just five Premier League starts this term.
Many of City's problems were coming from Oster's growing influence down the right and Reading almost doubled their lead when Doyle rose to meet his testing cross and Hunt's follow-up shot was blocked.
They did not have to wait long as Kitson made the most of some shoddy marking from Kalifa Cissé's quick free-kick and strolled through City's defence to beat Hart with the minimum of fuss.