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Manchester City started life without Roberto Mancini as they earned a 2-0 win over Reading at the Madejski Stadium in the Barclays Premier League.
The visiting side were made to work for their win, with Sergio Aguero's first-half strike and Edin Dzeko's late goal enough to take maximum points. Caretaker manager Brian Kidd made three changes to City's defeated FA Cup final defence, restoring Micah Richards, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott, while Reading were unchanged from last weekend's 4-2 win at Fulham.
The visitors made a strong start, James Milner testing Alex McCarthy in the opening minute, before Aguero forced the Reading shot-goalkeeper into a fine save just three minutes later. City's early onslaught showed no signs of letting up and McCarthy had to show his excellent reflexes once more, the 23-year-old making a superb double stop to deny James Milner and Aguero at the end of a wonderful sweeping attack.
The City defence suffered a blow after 15 minutes, as Kolo Toure was forced off through injury and replaced by Maicon, but it was of little concern to a visiting forward line who continued to press with vigour and energy. Reading did manage to stymie the City attack somewhat and did have a chance after 28 minutes, Gareth McCleary's curling effort forcing a decent save from Joe Hart.
Reading could not hold on for ever, though, and five minutes before the interval they were breached, Aguero coolly slotting home at the end of a brilliantly constructed short-corner routine. Aguero saw a long-range effort beaten away by McCarthy a minute later, and the visitors must have been wondering how they had not led by more when Gael Clichy fired over following another piece of sumptuous football.
Reading were able to keep the deficit to one until the break and they almost levelled, Hart performing heroics to prevent Pavel Pogrebnyak from nodding home a Danny Guthrie cross. City responded in kind and it was McCarthy to the rescue again as he tipped away a fierce drive from Yaya Toure.
The midfielder stung the goalkeeper's palms again with 19 minutes of normal time remaining, however, Nigel Adkins' men refused to lie down and went agonisingly close to a leveller as Adrian Mariappa's goalbound header was cleared by Carlos Tevez.
Jem Karacan forced another save from Hart with a long-range strike but any hopes of a home fightback were extinguished as substitute Dzeko latched onto an exquisite reverse-pass from David Silva before checking inside and easing the ball past a despairing McCarthy to seal the win.
Reading manager Nigel Adkins: "We played against an exceptionally good team that play the ball very well. They are obviously hurting at this moment in time as well, but their attitude was bang-on from a players' point of view. They are good in possession of the football.
"But I must say, although we maybe stuffed them a little bit in the first half - that's maybe down to the quality of their players - we want to evolve into a team that can control longer periods of possession of the football.
"There are still a lot of positives we will take from this. The two goals could have been against anybody, they are things that we have got to avoid and could have avoided. Alex [McCarthy] has played very well in goal and we'll take a lot of positives from it for where we're going in the future."
Manchester City caretaker manager Brian Kidd: “Three points was the most important thing. You get to this stage of the season where it's not about performances, it's about getting results. It was on my mind that we needed to seal that second spot in the league, that's the least we had to do.
"Everyone - the staff, the fans and the players - did it for the club tonight, so I'm pleased. It was special effort from the players and the backroom staff have been terrific as well - the support from them has been really good.
"I would have just taken the result tonight. If you had said to me you are going to get three points and clinch second place, I'd have accepted that - the way the last 48 hours have gone. We aren't greedy and we don't have to qualify now, we're second.
"All credit to the players, they are the ones that have had to put up with stuff off the pitch as well. I'm pleased for them because it would have been a travesty if they hadn't finished second. It's not me, I've just come in and been asked to take the team for two games. As a Manchester lad, I couldn't say no."