It was fitting, on the eve of Cheltenham week, for Steve Coppell to hail the Irish influence at Reading that has helped to lengthen their odds against being relegated. Perhaps his opposite number, Sven Goran Eriksson, would have been wise to introduce his own Stephen Ireland from the Manchester City bench to try to reverse their poor form.
The outlook was bright for City after an eye-catching start to the season, but Saturday's defeat left them with one win – at Old Trafford – from their last eight league games. It was an eight-game losing streak that put Reading in such a dire situation at the bottom, yet after back-to-back triumphs for the first time this season, against Middlesbrough and now City, things are starting to look up.
The Irish strikers Shane Long and Kevin Doyle fashioned this victory with a second-half display that would have impressed the Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni's assistants, Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady, who were at the Madejski Stadium. Tardelli's presence brought a wry smile to an upbeat Coppell. "That wonderful Dublin boy Marco Tardelli," he quipped. "I still have his signature on my arse from a European Cup-Winners' Cup game between Manchester United and Juventus."
Trapattoni will have heard glowing praise of Stephen Hunt's display in midfield, too, but while he and Doyle have already made their mark at this level, Coppell talked of why Long may be about to join them. "Longy is a totally different type of centre-forward," he said.
"He was not connected to any club when he was younger – I think he played hurling when he was 15 or 16 – he only played football for enjoyment. That is totally different from coming up through all the year groups and being told, 'Do this, don't do that'. Longy played for fun and with expression. In many ways, that is his strength. However, he is 21 now and has got to start delivering."
He delivered his third league goal from only five starts this season in the 62nd minute. Doyle set up his team-mate for a cool, near-post finish. Dave Kitson, who usually keeps Long on the bench, this time replaced the 21-year-old and added a second two minutes from the end after City failed to defend Kalifa Cissé's free-kick.
Eriksson saw his captain, Richard Dunne, carried off after half an hour to have nine stitches in his shin but was also concerned about two penalty appeals that went against Michael Johnson in the first half after he appeared to be felled by James Harper and then Ivar Ingimarsson. Uriah Rennie booked Johnson for the second of these.
"There were two penalties, if you look at it afterwards, which we have done many times," Eriksson said. As Reading headed for a training camp in Spain yesterday, City's hopes of Europe appeared to be fading.
Goals: Long (62) 1-0; Kitson (88) 2-0.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Rosenior, Bikey, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Oster, Harper, Matejovsky (Cissé, 79), Hunt; Long (Kitson, 82), Doyle. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Sonko, Kebe.
Manchester City (4-5-1): Hart; Corluka, Dunne (Sun Jihai, 29), Ball, Garrido; Elano, Fernandes, Hamann (Castillo, 67), Johnson, Vassell (Caicedo, 59); Benjani. Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Ireland.
Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).
Booked: Manchester City Hamann, Johnson.
Man of the match: Hunt.