Reading claimed a much-deserved three points for the first time in the new Championship campaign, as Aston Villa were defeated 2-1 at Madejski Stadium.
- Goal-line tech confirms Popa's deflected cross is over the line
- Barrow adds his first in Reading colours soon after
- Hourihane strikes late but it counts for little for Villa
Adrian Popa's deflected cross looped off the leg of Glenn Whelan, and despite desperate attempts by goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, the ball crossed the line early in the second half.
Mo Barrow smashed in from close range for his first in Reading colours to double the lead... but there were nervy moments in the final throes after Conor Hourihane slammed in. It gave late hope to the remaining travelling fans, which never came to fruition.
The Royals squad included Garath McCleary and Roy Beerens for the first time of the season, who would later be introduced from the bench. Leandro Bacuna too was included, having joined from the Villans two days prior.
And although Reading controlled the ball for the entirety of the game's start as they probed for a way through the defence, it was Villa who burst through with the first chance of the game with Scott Hogan on the break. His attempted pass ricocheted off a chasing Liam Kelly into the path of Andre Green, but Vito Mannone narrowed the angle well and saved low to his left.
Royals soon settled into their rhythm again, dominating possession and forcing an opening with a ball into John Swift on the edge of the box, curling an effort half a yard wide of the post.
The hosts looked the more likely to score as the half progressed, Kelly’s corner finding Paul McShane 12 yards out, but he had more space than he perhaps thought and could not direct his header on target.
More pressure from the Royals resulted in two golden chances in the space of a minute for Popa. First with a good advantage played by the referee seeing Popa played in 18 yards out by Gunter, with his first-time effort acrobatically saved by Sam Johnstone to his right.
Popa was soon in again with Barrow on a quick break through the middle, sliding in for Popa who drove into the area, cutting inside and shooting but blocked with Johnstone’s foot and cleared.
The onslaught kept going all the way to the break, Pelle Clement squaring for Barrow who had space and time to shoot, going left-footed from 25 yards but bouncing wide.
Popa was back in the thick of the action on the stroke of half-time, the ball being played along the line of Reading attackers before the winger could let fly, straight into Johnstone’s grasp to end a frustrating but dominant first period from the Royals.
Half-time: Reading 0-0 Aston Villa
Kelly, in search of number four for the season, was slipped in by Barrow within two minutes of the restart - from a narrow angle, he couldn't quite slip his shot inside the far post and it sailed harmlessly wide.
But a rambunctious start to the second half was eventually rewarded with the goal that it merited. Popa drove into the box down the left and sent in a cross... Whelan's outstretched leg looped it up over Johnstone and against the far post, before the goalie clawed away... but the Hawk-Eye system quickly confirmed to referee Kevin Friend that the ball was a foot over the line.
And, soon after Kelly had forced another low stop from a narrow angle as he tried to catch out the 'keeper from a narrow angle, Villa stopper Johnstone did have to make a visit to his net as our Gambian attacker pounced for his first in blue and white hoops.
As the ball broke to Swift, he opted to cushion a pass back to defender Liam Moore in space on the left of the area... he shimmed into space with the kind of footwork rarely associated with a centre-half before squaring for Barrow to lash in from underneath the crossbar.
Popa went in search of an undisputed goal for himself and, scampering in down the left again, drilled into the side netting with little to aim at. At the other end, a rare attack by Villa saw Green strike cleanly from the edge of the area, with Mannone fielding well in response.
Reading continued to create chance to extend the lead further - few better than a direct ball for sub McCleary, making his first appearance since the play-off final after undergoing an operation. Onside, his touch was just a fraction heavy, allowing Johnstone to come out and get down to poke a fingertip at it.
The Royals could have been made to pay in the final few minutes as that advantage was halved through Hourihane. The midfielder found space to get onto the end of a chested ball by Agbonlahor and lashed in.
Villa, rallying and trying to find a way back in, had a chance to steal a point in the third minute of added time... the wall did its job in keeping out Hourihane's free-kick from the edge of the D, before Green's follow-up deflected wide off a teammate.
Nervy moments at the end, but a well-merited win and another excellent Madejski Stadium result!
Full-time: Reading 2-1 Aston Villa
Reading: Mannone, Gunter, McShane (c), Moore, Blackett, Van den Berg (Evans 70), Swift, Kelly, Barrow (Beerens 77), Popa (McCleary 70), Clement.
Unused subs: Jaakkola, Mendes, Bacuna, Ilori.
Goals: Whelan og 49, Barrow 55.
Yellow: Moore, McCleary.
Aston Villa: Johnstone, De Laet (Hutton 63), Terry (c), Chester, Taylor, Bjarnason, Hourihane, Whelan, Onomah (Adomah 77), Green, Hogan (Agbonlahor 29).
Unused subs: Samba, Lansbury, Steer, Bree.
Goal: Hourihane 87.
Yellow: Green, Hourihane.