In danger of losing ground to a host of rival teams who picked up results on Good Friday, Reading calmly produced a stunning display to dispatch Aston Villa at Villa Park and earn three valuable points in front of more than 2,000 travelling fans to go back to fourth in the table in style.
Joseph Mendes scored at the start of both the first and second half - drilling low into the corner for his first before converting from close range to turn home Lewis Grabban's low cross for the second - and Grabban scored his first goal in a Royals shirt when he stroked home a second half penalty as Villa failed to cope with Reading’s excellent build-up play and resolute defence. A fine win.
Royals boss Jaap Stam made four changes to his starting line-up for the trip to Villa Park, bringing in Joseph Mendes, Jordan Obita, Danny Williams and Adrian Popa to the eleven. Tiago Ilori and George Evans were fit enough to take to the bench, while Yakou Meite also came into the squad.
In glorious sunshine, the Royals’ first shot at goal was a speculative one from Liam Kelly. A Villa corner had been cleared and Kelly pounced on a poor touch from last man Amavi. But instead of taking it on towards goal, he tyook aim from 35 yards out, trying to catch Sam Johnstone off his line, but the strike wasn’t struck cleanly enough to cause any alarm.
Our second attempt at goal ended in the Royals taking the lead. Grabban threaded the ball into the feet of strike partner Joseph Mendes and he took the ball into the box and drilled it wide of Johnstone’s dive and inside the bottom left corner.
Villa looked to respond immediately and Jonathan Kodjia directed a near post volley just wide when he connected with a cross from the right. But Reading were causing their hosts some concern with early balls over the top, Mendes chesting the ball down from a sublime ball forward from Adi Popa, then Grabban passing the ball into the net from a narrow angle but only after the ball had gone out for a goal kick.
Al Habsi produced a good reaction save to deny a low shot which took a devious deflection on it’s way through to the Omani. But Villa were level from the corner that followed; James Chester rose highest to head home from a corner from the right, Al Habsi unable to claim the ball and the centre-back directing the ball into the Royals net for 1-1.
Grabban took the ball forward next but skewed a shot well wide from distance. Then a quick Popa throw was hooked into the box by Kelly and Hutton had to head it behind as Mendes lurked at the far post.
From the resulting corner, Swift tested Johnstone with a swerving shot from 25 yards out that needed pushing wide by the Villa keeper diving low to his right. At the other end, Conor Hourihane swept a sweetly struck shot just over Al Habsi’s crossbar.
With half an hour played, Mendes missed a golden opportunity to make it 2-1. Swift set Grabban away down the right flank into acres of space and he placed an early low cross into Mendes who was arriving at the back post. But his first time shot flew just over the bar to Villa’s relief.
With ten minutes of the first half remaining, an Albert Adomah cross nearly picked out the head of Bacuna but it floated just over the Villa man’s head at the back post.
But on the stroke of half-time, Reading came close to a scoring a second. A superb ball from Kelly found Popa racing in behind and he pressured Bacuna into a mistake, passing the ball back from the byline for Grabban to strike. But it was straight at Johnstone and easy for the Villa goalkeeper.
Half-time: Aston Villa 1-1 Reading
A matter of seconds after the restart, the Royals retook the lead. Reading won the ball back from Villa’s kick off and Popa threaded a delightful ball into the path of Grabban down the right. He fizzed a low cross into the middle where Mendes was able to sidefoot it home from the edge of the six yard box!
The hosts could have drawn level again when a floated corner from the right was met by the lively Kodjia but headed over the crossbar under pressure from six yards out.
Playing some lovely stuff, Reading came close to a third. Swift dinked a ball into the run of Obita who tried to bring it under control inside the box. Johnstone did enough to intervene but the ball came out to Grabban who thundered a follow-up effort at goal only to see Johnstone parry well at his near post.
But chances were coming at both ends and Hourihane’s low ball into the Royals box from the left was met by the sliding leg of Kodjia at the far post. Al Habsi spilled it behind for a corner, but the Royals’ lead survived.
Appeals for a handball in the Royals box went unheard as Villa ramped up the pressure with an inswinging free kick and then a corner, but substitute Garath McCleary’s first impact was to beat two men on the right, race into the box along the byline and tee the ball up for Grabban whose mis-hit effort was gathered in by Johnstone.
Hogan should have made it 2-2 when Jedinak was placed in down the right and his pull back was spooned over the bar by the Villa substitute.
Reading kept looking for a thirds and some lovely passing down the left flank resulted in a shot from Swift that was charged down before it could test Johnstone. But Villa were not lying down and introduced Jack Grealish for Nathan Baker.
And Kodjia rolled his man to fire a fine effort at gioal, only to be denied by good block from Moore deflecting the ball wide.
At the other end though, Reading found the two-goal cushion their performance had warranted. Kelly capitalised on a slip at the back and launched a counter attack. Kermorgant got on the ball down the left and played a delightful ball in to Kelly inside the box. He was pulled back by Bacuna and the referee pointed to the spot. Lewis Grabban stepped up and passed the ball into the bottom right corner to make it 3-1 with ten minutes to go.
Hourihane arrowed a left-footed effort over the bar from the edge of the Royals box as the hosts looked for a reply. And with three minutes left on the clock, James Chester headed wide when a lovely ball was arced into him at the back post.
A minimum of four minutes of injury time was signalled as Evans conceded a free kick, but Villa wasted it trying to take a clever set piece 22 yards from goal. Grealish swept a half-hearted shot over the crossbar from range and the Royals were there. The full time whistle sounded and Jaap Stam’s side had picked up a vital victory in the race for a top six spot.
Full-time: Aston Villa 1-3 Reading
Aston Villa: Johnstone, Baker (Grealish 76), Hutton, Bacuna, Chester (c), Lansbury, Amavi (Hogan 61), Jedinak, Hourihane, Adomah, Kodjia.
Subs: Sarkic, Richards, Elphick, Bree, Gardner.
Goals: Chester (14)
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter (c), Obita, Blackett, Moore, Kelly (Evans 86), Williams, Swift, Popa (McCleary 65), Grabban, Mendes (Kermorgant 69).
Subs: Jaakkola, Ilori, Mutch, Meite.
Yellow: Williams, Obita, Swift
Goals: Mendes (6, 46), Grabban pen (79)