Aston Villa 3 Reading 1: Carew epitomises O'Neill's giant strides

Everyone had been saying Aston Villa looked like a top-six team, but now they can boast a League position to match the moniker. They swaggered into the European berth courtesy of a third successive Premier League victory that was as irresistible as they were irrepressible. In fact, on a sharper day they would have bagged half a dozen.

Reading will be thankful they did not, but painfully mindful of the difference in class. For Martin O'Neill it was an apt time to reflect on his time in charge as Reading were the first side his Villa faced. In 17 months he has transformed them into an outfit of giddying pace and potential.

Gareth Barry, to name but one, is a different player, operating in a different role, on a different stratosphere and here, once again, he was central to most of what was good. Of that there was plenty. "As the game went on I thought we were excellent," crooned O'Neill. "I couldn't be more delighted."

He was especially pleased because of the hasty bit of juggling he was forced to do before kick- off. Olof Mellberg had actually completed the warm up before crying off with a virus. That the influential Swede was not missed was down to the tireless efforts of Barry and the dependable Martin Laursen and the mesmeric movement of Ashley Young. Not to mention the two goals of John Carew.

It was the 6ft 5in striker who got on the end of Young's perfect in-swinging free kick in the 23rd minute. Steve Coppell claimed it was offside, although Reading had been provided with an indication from where the main threat may arrive. Of Villa's 40 goals this season 20 have come directly from a set piece. Put this stat alongside the fact that Reading have the leakiest defence in the Premier League and the home support were justified in anticipating such a breakthrough. But it came just a minute after the visitors should have scored.

Kevin Doyle did everything right in flicking the ball over Curtis Davies, but then everything wrong in sending the shot high into the Holte End with only Scott Carson to beat. Just before the break, Doyle's strike partner Dave Kitson dragged the ball wide when given the freedom of the left half of the Villa area.

They were both let-offs for Villa, although in terms of getting away with it they were nothing compared to the generosity extended to Marcus Hahnemann by Uriah Rennie. The referee had already angered the ground with his constant fussiness but when he pulled out a yellow card for what so obviously had been a two-footed foul by the goalkeeper on Gabriel Agbonlahor the fury turned to disbelief.

It was one of those decisions that usually causes those predominant veins on O'Neill's forehead to twitch uncontrollably, but this time his blood pressure remained in the safety zone largely thanks to the excellent Laursen's unchallenged header in the 55th minute. That should have triggered party time, but for a while Villa disappeared into the kitchen as Reading banged on the door. Carson had to be sharp to turn away Brynjar Gunnarsson's header and Kitson watched another effort repelled.

Villa were soon in control again, and in the 88th minute Carew got his second when applying the finish to a sumptuous upfield move. There was time for James Harper to grab a consolation. But not much of one.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?