The Royals were edged out by a single goal at Villa Park on Tuesday evening, in a close fought encounter in the Midlands.
There wasn’t too much between the two sides throughout, in a match largely dominated by set-pieces – and it was a corner kick that won it for the Villans, as £7m frontman Christian Benteke headed home Ashley Westwood’s delivery.
Brian McDermott’s men battled throughout and had come close to scoring in the first period through Adam Le Fondre, but were forced to come away with nothing to show for their endeavours.
The first effort of any real note came from the Royals’ left flank, as a well worked Adam Le Fondre flick found Jason Roberts, who showed textbook strength before feeding Hal Robson-Kanu – with the midfielder flashing a shot wide from 20 yards.
Villa then faced danger from the opposite flank, as captain Jobi McAnuff scuttled inside before sending a low ball across the box. Robson-Kanu’s quick flick was saved at close range by Brad Guzan – before the ball fell agonisingly behind Le Fondre, who saw his ambitious overhead kick trickle wide.
The visitors tails were now up – Sean Morrison almost repeated his feat from the DW Stadium, rising well at the far post to meet a corner, but this time nodding just off target.
At the other end, Federici had to be thoroughly alert in the 17th minute as Christian Benteke found room on the penalty spot – but saw his low drive well held by Reading’s Australian number one.
If Benteke felt he should have done better with that effort, then ten minutes later his colleague Andreas Weimann would really have been kicking himself – as he blazed his strike partner’s cutback way over the bar from close range. It was arguably the best chance of the game up to that point.
Villa did not in fact win their first corner kick of the game until the half hour mark had passed, but they almost made it count – as Bannan’s delightfully flighted cross was headed wide by Nathan Baker.
It was a sustained period of pressure from Lambert’s men, with Bannan’s wand of a left foot causing continuous problems.
Reading looked solid enough however – and would have trotted in fairly content at the break.
The second period started in a more tentative fashion, though another Bannan/Baker corner kick combination almost paid off for the home side – as the latter’s neat flick just flew wide.
Brett Holman then clipped a daisy cutter narrowly off target from the edge of the area, with the Australian’s strong appeals for a corner kick after a low dive by Federici – waved away.
Some wonderful play by Roberts did win the Royals a corner at the opposite end – where Shorey’s wickedly swerving delivery was headed over the bar by Adam Le Fondre.
Set pieces were looking like the most likely avenue for either side – another corner it was that provided the next chance; Bannan the creator for Villa, Clark flicking wide of the post after a well-timed run.
With 65 minutes on the clock Roberts beat the offside trap down the left wing before cutting inside and sending a low shot towards goal – which was well kicked away by Guzan.
However, as seemed likely, it was a set piece that would bring the first goal – as Christian Benteke opened the scoring.
The giant front man leaped high at the far post to head home Westwood’s corner kick, powering home past helpless Federici.
Substitute Noel Hunt saw his header saved low by Guzan, whilst Garath McCleary also replaced Hal Robson-Kanu as Brian McDermott attempted to gain some extra impetus.
However, despite plenty of huff and puff – the men in hoops couldn’t quite break down a resolute Villans backline – and were forced to come away from a grand old stadium with nothing to show for their endeavours.