Gareth Barry, disaffected under David O'Leary but now club captain, last night launched Aston Villa's brave new world with a victory in Martin O'Neill's first home match as manager. Barry's second-half header thrilled most of a 37,329 crowd - 10 per cent up on last season's average despite heavy rain - yet the result was rough justice for Reading.
The Championship champions had struck through Kevin Doyle after four minutes, and proceeded to subject O'Neill to a sight he used to relish; that of a team in hoops running the show. However, Ibrahima Sonko was dismissed for a 33rd-minute foul that led to a penalty equaliser by Juan Pablo Angel, another who was unsettled under the previous regime. Reading, who do not know how to play with 10 men after going all last season without a red card, were eventually undone by Barry.
O'Neill was elated by his welcome and even more so by building on Saturday's hard-won point at Arsenal. "We're delighted with the win, though we know we have a lot to do," the former Celtic manager said. "We can improve and will."
Steve Coppell, his Reading counterpart, insisted Sonko had not intended to bring down Luke Moore for the spot-kick. "He got into a tangle, but the letter of the law is intent," he said. "I know the player and he is not stupid, though as minnows we don't expect any favours." He added ruefully: "I'd rather lose a goal than a player."
The raucous reception for O'Neill had scarcely subsided before Reading were ahead. Seol Ki-Hyeon brushed aside Moore with an ease that cannot have impressed his new manager and was allowed to cross the ball by Jlloyd Samuel's failure to challenge. Doyle had the freedom of the six-yard box and used it to angle his header beyond Thomas Sorensen.
Villa drew level in controversial circumstances 11 minutes before the break after Moore tumbled under a challenge, clumsy rather than malicious, that began outside the penalty area. Angel dispatched his first home goal since Boxing Day.
If Reading might have been expected to pull everyone behind the ball their attitude at the start of the second half indicated a more positive agenda. They did defend in depth but also counter-attacked dangerously. Villa wrapped up the points in the 61st minute. Peter Whittingham, whom O'Leary had been trying to sell to Wolves, whipped in a left-wing cross moments after appearing as a substitute. Barry, stealing in front of Ivar Ingimarsson, completed O'Neill's night with a fierce header.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorenson; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Samuel (Whittingham, 60); Agbonlahor, Davis, McCann, Barry; Angel, Moore. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Laursen, Hendrie, Djemba-Djemba.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Seol, Sidwell, Harper, Convey (Hunt, 66); Doyle (Long, 81), Lita (Gunnarsson, 36). Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Oster.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).Reuse content