It had been 450 minutes since Reading last scored a league goal and the "cauldron of optimism" their chairman, John Madejski, wished the stadium named in his honour to become was looking a slightly delusional ambition at best. In fact, by the time Nicky Shorey scored an injury-time consolation for the home side most of the crowd had departed, with their optimism stuffed firmly back in their pockets, having seen their side thoroughly outplayed by a powerful Aston Villa side.
Despite missing a penalty Villa coasted to victory and the three points keep them level on points with Liverpool in the fourth Champions League spot.
"I was delighted with us," said the Villa manager, Martin O'Neill. "I thought we were a threat all day. There's no question we deserved to win."
Goals from Ashley Young and Marlon Harewood secured the win, which was more emphatic than the scoreline suggests. At times Villa barely had to work for their chances, with Reading's centre-backs Ibrahima Sonko and Kalifa Cissé seemingly happy to make up for any inadequacies in Villa's approach play.
John Carew could have given Villa the lead after four minutes when he capitalised on a mix-up between Sonko and Cissé, but the Norwegian dragged his volley wide from 18 yards. On the half-hour Cissé was harshly adjudged by the referee, Martin Atkinson, to have handled a Craig Gardner shot. Gareth Barry, whose four previous goals this season had come from the penalty spot, gave Reading a reprieve by blasting the spot-kick high and wide.
Reading were not able to make the most of the let-off and went into the half-time break behind, again the architects of their own demise. The hapless Cissé's defensive frailties were once again exposed as he completely misjudged a long ball leaving Gabriel Agbonlahor a free run on goal. Agbonlahor unselfishly squared the ball to Ashley Young when he might have shot. The England international took his time before rifling the ball high into the net to register his third league goal of the season.
In Reading's defence they made more of fist of it in the second half. Shorey saw a low shot well saved by Scott Carson just after the hour, and moments later the full-back's inswinging free-kick nearly evaded everyone, but again Carson was equal to it.
Villa were devastating on the break through the speed and power of Agbonlohar, Young, Carew and substitute Harewood, who got his third league goal of the season, all as a replacement, on a swift counter-attack that symbolised what Villa under O'Neill are all about.
Harewood laid the ball off to Young in his own half and Young brought it 40 yards before sliding in Harewood. The former West Ham player's curling finish into the top corner was devastating.
O'Neill's side could easily have had three more, with Carew seemingly able to steamroller the Reading defence at will. O'Neill described the Norwegian forward's display as "really immense. Carew playing like that is as good as there is. I've often said that sometimes he doesn't realise how good he is. He has as much self-confidence now as I think he's ever had and his second half was absolutely incredible."
Despite his chairman's wishes, the Reading manager Steve Coppell was left to assess a situation where there is little or no optimism in his dressing room. "I think we all feel as if there's more to come," he said hopefully. "This could be the most significant season for all of the players and it's only in a bad situation that the real personality of people comes through."
Goals: Young (44) 0-1; Harewood (83) 0-2; Shorey (90) 1-2.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Cissé (Ingimarsson, 71), Sonko, Shorey; Oster (Kebe, 57), Matejovsky, Harper, Hunt; Doyle (Long, 71), Kitson. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Bikey.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Gardner, Davies, Laursen, Bouma; Young, Reo-Coker (Osbourne, 86), Barry, Maloney (Harewood, 73); Agbonlahor, Carew. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Knight, Salifou.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire)
Booked: Reading Sonko, Matejovsky; Aston Villa Gardner.
Man of the match: Carew.
Attendance: 23, 889.Reuse content