Aston Villa 3 Reading 1: Young thrust keeps 'new' Villa flying

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The Independent Football

Everything seems possible at Villa Park right now. A top four, Champions League finish for Martin O'Neill's side; berths in Fabio Capello's England for Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor. Yes, Aston is the place to be. Except if you are the lowly opposition, of course.

Villa have yet to lose to a side in the bottom half of the league all campaign and do not look like doing so. They are not flat-track bullies so much as fast-track bullies, coming at the leaden-footed with such speed that the damage is usually as irrevocable as it is inevitable. Young and Agbonlahor are the young thrusters and the entreaty to the Italian is irresistible.

O'Neill is doing little to calm the clamour, pleading with Capello not to base his opinion on the muted display he saw in the FA Cup loss against Manchester United eight days ago. "They have played top quality sides this season and have been splendid so it's not a case of them not being up to playing against United," he said. "Last week we didn't create much. But nor did United."

The opposite was true here and the duo monopolised reviews – alongside John Carew and Martin Laursen – although Gareth Barry was excellent. A frustrated figure when O'Neill arrived, floating around with no real home for his talents, Barry is now fixed, knows what he is doing but then so do all of this Villa side. Witness Nigel Reo-Coker suppressing his attacking urges to play a disciplined role in front of the back four.

For Reading, they lack dependable defenders, an area Steve Coppell must look at this month. In his own words, they don't worry about not having won on the road this season – "we just turn up and go for it". All very commendable, but if the home side accepts that for every three chances you get, Reading may get just one themselves, then they can prove easy pickings.

Here was the case in point. Kevin Doyle should have scored, as might Dave Kitson, while James Harper did locate the net. But by then, the second minute of injury time, Villa had enjoyed 18 efforts on goal and converted three.

Carew, on what was perhaps his best Villa afternoon, latched on to Young's free-kick to open the scoring and Laursen headed the second from a corner. Half of Villa's 40 goals this term have come from set-pieces. But they were just as likely to have come from open play. Some of the movement empties the lungs because of its pace. Carew's second was classic "new Villa" – Young tearing upfield, Agbonlahor stretching the defence with a run and ball across, the Norwegian tapping in. Still, top four may be a slight overstatement. Top six, however, should be the least of it.

Goals: Carew 22 (1-0); Laursen 55 (2-0); Carew 88 (3-0); Harper 90 (3-1).

Aston Villa (4-1-3-2): Carson; Gardner, Laursen, Davies, Bouma; Reo-Coker; Petrov, Barry, Young (Maloney, 90); Carew (Salifou, 90), Agbonlahor (Harewood, 90). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Knight.

Reading (5-4-1): Hahnemann; Murty, Gunnarsson, Ingimarsson, De la Cruz (Convey, 73), Shorey; Doyle (Long, 89), Harper, Cisse, Hunt; Kitson (Lita, 76). Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Pearce.

Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Reading De La Cruz, Hahnemann.

Man of the match: Barry.

Attendance: 32,288.