Luton failed to settle, albeit only for the first 20 seconds, and it was enough to cost them a goal against the Championship leaders. Having fallen behind so early against a team in such prime form might have been the cue for a collapse but, if anything, the reverse was true.
From the kick-off, Reading - who were without their captain, Steve Sidwell, and his fellow midfielder Glen Little, both victims of the exacting draw with Sheffield United on Tuesday night - managed to beat Marlon Beresford without Luton touching the ball. A mistake by the centre-back Leon Barnett let in Kevin Doyle, who neatly beat Beresford for his 13th goal of the season.
As for the hosts, they were looking for only their third win of the year and were trying to reverse the run of bad results that has seen them slip from the play-off places to 10 points outside the top six. They had done well against some of the division's better teams this season and, despite their poor start, were able to do so again.
With 20 minutes gone, Luton had drawn level with a move that would have beaten a defence even tighter than Reading's. A combination of fine passing and one step-over between Kevin Foley, Howard and Rowan Vine saw Vine finally clip his shot into the bottom corner.
It only took Luton five minutes more to take the lead. A cross by Foley was missed by Graeme Murty and Vine scored his fourth goal of the week, having picked up two on Tuesday. That was not the end of Lutons chances as eight minutes before the interval, Howard hit the crossbar from six yards out after Ahmet Brkovic's header had set him up.
Luton, who let a two-goal lead slip on Tuesday night against Cardiff, gave themselves that advantage once more, six minutes after the break. Another one-two, between Dean Morgan and Howard saw Morgan wrong-foot Marcus Hahnemann from 18 yards for the Hatters' third goal.
Stephen Hunt's cross in the final minute found Doyle, but his header came too late to prevent Luton from claiming the glory.
Luton Town (4-4-2): Beresford; Edwards, Barnett, Heikkinen, Davis (Holmes, 82); Brkovic, Nicholls, Foley, Morgan (Showunmi, 82); Howard, Vine (Feeney, 81). Substitutes not used: Brill (gk), Perrett.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Oster (Lita, 80), Harper, Gunnarsson, Convey; Doyle, Kitson Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Hunt, Halls, Makin.
Referee: K Wright (Cambridgeshire).