Last night saw the dawning of a new era at Villa Park as Martin O'Neill took charge of his first home game as Aston Villa manager. Neil Connor was there to witness the arrival of the man many see as Villa's saviour.

It has been a long time since Villa Park felt a sense of hope like this.

Stan Collymore putting Villa within touching distance of beating Atletico Madrid and sending John Gregory's men to a European quarter final in 1998 might have come close.

But that almost pales into insignificance compared to the euphoria that met Martin O'Neill's arrival.

Grandchildren 50 years from now may well be told stories about this moment before they are old enough to be able to fit into their first pair of boots.

European penalty shootouts, on-pitch player brawls, and even the odd appearance of Bosko Balaban - Villa Park has seen drama in all its forms. But this was one of those moments that will surely be hard to forget.

Whether O'Neill can transform expectation into success is a matter which remains to be seen, but anyone brave enough to take the challenge deserves the warm reception he received from the home fans at Villa Park.

The Reading fans, meanwhile, were enjoying a party atmosphere of their own as they savoured their first away game in the Premiership.

Looking like students, it was an education for them to see the massive interest from the home fans.

Outside the North Stand it was obvious ten minutes before kick-off that Villa's "value pricing policy" for this game must have been devised before O'Neill was appointed manager.

Streams of fans queued up about 50 deep until more turnstiles were opened up by ground officials.

But minutes before kick-off the tension was mounting at the impending arrival of the man who many hope will inject a new momentum into the Midlands' biggest football club.

When he came out of the tunnel it was to rapturous applause. But O'Neill couldn't take time to enjoy it - he was too busy trying to dodge the pack of 20 or so photographers who were blocking his way to the bench.

However, after a quick jog, he was finally able to take his seat in the home dugout for the first time.

After kick-off it wasn't long before the "sleeves rolled up, arms crossed, serious-looking pose" was rudely interrupted by a Reading goal.

This wasn't in the script - and neither was the ruling out of an effort by Angel which beat the goalkeeper but was considered to be offside by the referee.

But when Angel did score, from the penalty spot, the mood changed again.

"Well done Martin," shouted one Villa fan after Angel stroked the ball home, as if it was the Irishman, not the Colombian, who had scored.

But most of the spectators were taking more notice of O'Neill than the players.

Directing his team as they were defending set pieces, taking corners, or simply walking past the dugout, it was entertainment enough for the price of a Villa value ticket.

The Irishman was a focal point for supporters used to the static posturing of David O'Leary.

Few would have thought it would have taken a journey from Madrid to ten-man Reading to put the passion back into Villa Park.

But whether a more successful era is beginning was the question considered by many as they walked home through the drizzle last night.