Reading 1 Aston Villa 2
Aston Villa recovered from a calamitous Nathan Baker own goal to haul themselves out of the relegation places with victory at fellow strugglers Reading.
The Royals were gifted the lead on the half-hour when Baker made a complete hash of a routine clearance but on a day when neither defence was convincing it was not decisive.
Instead Villa were level two minutes later when Christian Benteke fired in before Gabby Agbonlahor grabbed the winner in first-half injury time.
Both goals appeared preventable, especially Agbonlahor’s strike, after a goalmouth melee that saw third-choice goalkeeper Stuart Taylor scoop the ball to the winger after Barry Bannan’s deft touch hit the post.
Victory was just Villa’s second in their past 12 league games and moved them three points clear of danger.
Reading’s defeat their second in succession at home against a relegation rival after they lost 3-0 to Wigan a fortnight ago left them above last-placed QPR on goals scored only.
Villa boss Paul Lambert handed January signing Yacouba Sylla his first league start since his move from French second-tier side Clermont as he made three changes. Skipper Ron Vlaar and Barry Bannan also returned.
Reading made one enforced change with Hal Robson-Kanu coming in for the injured Jimmy Kebe.
During the week Reading boss Brian McDermott called for his side to make a fast start and they threatened twice inside the first five minutes.
Adam Le Fondre forced Brad Guzan to claw a header away after he peeled off his marker at the back post before delivering a cross that an unmarked Robson-Kanu mis-controlled.
Villa full-back Matthew Lowton was shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Jobi McAnuff, but for all Reading’s early promise they almost fell behind on 12 minutes when Benteke rattled the crossbar with a header.
It was an entertaining start when caution might have been expected given the game’s relevance to the relegation fight.
It became clear, however, why both teams were reticent to sit back as both were guilty of horror defending before the first half finished.
Reading’s opener on 31 minutes will be consigned to the blooper reel as Baker was left red-faced by his bumbling generosity.
There appeared little danger, despite Hope Akpan helping McAnuff’s low cross on, but defending close to his line Baker horribly rushed his clearance.
It meant he completely missed the ball and watched on as it bounced off his standing leg and over the line.
Reading’s lead lasted barely two minutes though as they showed why they have conceded more goals than any other club in the Barclays Premier League this term.
The industrious Andreas Weimann was given acres of space down the right but instead of marking Benteke the home defenders rushed to the goal-line.
The Belgian astutely sat back for the pass and lashed in a shot that took a deflection off Stephen Kelly to ensure Taylor was beaten.
It got worse for the Royals, however, as they conceded in first-half injury time for the second successive game at home.
Again the goal looked preventable as first Kelly failed to properly clear following a patient build-up by Villa.
Lowton headed the ball across the six-yard box and while Bannan’s deft touch rebounded off the post Taylor could only help the loose ball to Agbonlahor to thump home.
Reading thought they were level 10 minutes after the re-start only for a marginal offside call to go against them.
Noel Hunt poked home at close range but if he was not offside Le Fondre, who was just in front of him, appeared to have just strayed.
McDermott then made a double substitution, bringing on Garath McCleary and Nick Blackman for Hunt and Akpan.
The changed was met with boos by the home fans but Blackman almost immediately levelled only to fire wide after first controlling with his chest.
The striker then headed over from a McCleary cross Villa’s defence guilty of affording him too much space as Reading began to step up a gear.
Villa were now content to attack on the break and Agbonlahor fizzed a shot just wide while substitute Charles N’Zogbia lashed over when well placed.
Reading kept pushing, with six of their past seven league goals having come after the 84th minute, but there was no late rally on this occasion as Robson-Kanu wasted the best of their late chances.