Seven days ago, the players, staff and supporters of Manchester City were preparing for the FA Cup final, casting gleeful glances across the city at the prospect of Manchester United entering a period of transition as Alex Ferguson announced his retirement.
A week on it is City who are in a state of flux, after a chaotic few days in which they have lost their manager, the goodwill of a large chunk of their own supporters, and the respect of many neutrals.
Roberto Mancini’s demise was as sad as it was inevitable, and the way it was handled has not reflected well on a club that desperately wants to be taken seriously.
The fans have certainly lost their enthusiasm, and this was a night which could have been more different from the wildly ecstatic scenes at the Etihad Stadium just over a year ago when Sergio Aguero scored the stoppage time winner against QPR that brought City their first title in 44 years.
Aguero scored again last night, to set City on the way to a victory that confirmed their place as runners-up to United, but there were no wild celebrations.
The atmosphere in and around the Madejski Stadium was that of a wake rather than an end of season jolly. In the damp drizzle before kick-off, which must have made the small band of travelling fans from Manchester feel at home, the mood was downbeat.
Many City fans were still nursing emotional hangovers after the events of the past few days has left them battered and bewildered. After the upset of seeing their side lose the FA Cup final to lowly Wigan on Saturday, they awoke to rumours of their manager’s demise on Sunday and confirmation of his dismissal on Monday. It was like a gloomy Craig David song gone wrong.
Even worse for many of them were the revelations about how poor Mancini was as a manager. It may sound revisionist, but only now is a picture starting to emerge of a man who fell out with players, staff, and ultimately his employers. And while some supporters could not care less that Mancini had never set foot in the club’s youth academy, others started to see a side of their hero that had only been hinted at before, as if the scales had been lifted from their eyes.
More than anything, City’s fans were united in resignation that Mancini has gone and no-one knows what the future will bring. The news that David Platt had resigned shortly before kick-off was greeted with a shrug, and the thousand or so away supporters in the south stand could barely muster much more enthusiasm once the game started.
They did wave an Italian flag once or twice, and sing the odd chorus of “Mancini” to the tune of “Volare” but it was hardly the sort of show of defiance that might prompt the City board to question whether they had made the right decision.
Brian Kidd, in charge of the team for the night, made four changes from the FA Cup final side, resting Vincent Kompany and bringing in Micah Richards in his place as defender and captain.
Against the divison’s second worst side, City were comfortably in control of a game that had the pace and passion of post-season friendly, and could have been four or five ahead at half-time but for the heroics of Alex McCarthy in the Reading goal. The young keeper made fine saves to keep out Sergio Aguero, James Milner and Carlos Tevez as City swept in on goal.
But McCarthy could do nothing to prevent Aguero scoring shortly before half-time. From a short corner, Milner exchanged passes with David Silva and played the ball square for the Argentinian striker to guide into the far corner of goal from the edge of the penalty area.
The pattern was repeated after the break, with McCarthy saving well twice from Yaya Toure, although Joe Hart was finally called into action with two equally spectacular saves, first blocking a diving header by Pavel Pogrebnyak, and then tipping away a piledriver from Jem Karacan.
Edin Dzeko made it 2-0 in the closing stages from close range, after good work from Silva, and there was time for one final rendition of Mancini’s name and another fine save from McCarthy as the game petered out.
Kidd declined to attend the post-match press conference, with the club stating there was little he could say on the situation, and with Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment imminent, the coach may be wondering whether he has a future at the club.
And we will all be wondering what is the future for a club that was still drinking in their Premier League title-winning celebrations this time last year.
READING: McCarthy 9, Gunter 7, Morrison 6, Mariappa 6, Kelly 6, Robson-Kanu 7, Guthrie 6, Karacan 6, McAnuff 6, McCleary 6,
Reading Subs: Le Fondre for Pogrebnyak 63, Blackman for McAnuff 69
Hart 7, Richards 6, K Toure 6, Lescott 6, Clichy 6, Milner 7, Barry 6, Y Toure 7, Silva 7, Tevez 7, Aguero 7.
Man City Subs: Maicon for K Toure 14, Garcia for Barry 58, Dzeko for Aguero 62
Referee: M Atkinson.