Aston Villa 2 Reading 1

Napoleon would have been sick with envy. Not only is Aston Villa's latest general good - as 15 years as a manager have proved beyond doubt - he appears lucky, too.

With the hosts struggling to break down a redoubtable ten-man Reading in Martin O'Neill's first home match in charge, with half-an-hour left and the score tied, the Ulster-man decided to change his left back.

Off trudged the wretched Jlloyd Samuel and in his stead appeared Peter Whittingham. Anyone who saw that as the match-winning substitution is either a master of tarot, tealeaves or a liar.

Two minutes later the youngster, who had become so isolated under O'Neill's predecessor whose name we no longer speak, had curled over a sumptuous cross on to Gareth Barry's head and Villa were in front.

That inspired them to pour forward with increasing intent but until then they had toiled without much success or cohesion against a side shorn of the dismissed Ibrahima Sonko.

In keeping faith with the same men who performed so heroically at the Emirates Stadium, O'Neill must have expected a reasonably similar performance.

Frustratingly, it did not arrive for at least an hour; instead, in place of the vigour and purpose of Saturday was a tentativeness that undermined most of their early approach-work.

The opening goal aside, the hosts remained steadfast at the back but, at the start, it was as though they had become so accustomed to defending against Arsene Wenger's men that they had forgotten the need to commit numbers forward when in possession.

Whenever Gavin McCann or Steven Davis carried the ball through midfield, there was insufficient movement up front and so the options soon ran out.

To be fair to Reading, though, it was they who looked the more accomplished top-flight side in the opening exchanges and, for the first quarter their lead was fully deserved.

It came after just three minutes and it was the former Wolverhampton Wanderers winger, Seol Ki-Hyeon who laid the goal on a plate for Kevin Doyle.

The Korean has made a brilliant start to his Premiership career with Steve Coppell's men and emerged as a threat to Samuel - and the rest of the home defence - right from the start.

He took possession from a throw-in down what should have been a blind alley but he worked his way back, wriggled past Luke Moore and sent over a deep cross so accurate that Doyle could have scored with his eyes shut.

His powerful header back across Thomas Sorensen gave the Dane no chance. This was certainly not in the script.

Steve Sidwell could have doubled the visitors' lead ten minutes later when Seol picked out Leroy Lita in the Villa area. Although the striker's touch was a poor one, Sidwell latched on to the ball but scuffed it wide from 15 yards.

Juan Pablo Angel thought he had levelled in the 20th minute when Gareth Barry found the Colombian on the shoulder of the last defender and the striker powered his header downwards past Marcus Hahnemann.

This being Villa, something had to go wrong and so it did when the assistant referee raised his flag to signal offside.

O'Neill's side should have levelled on the half-hour when Sidwell interrupted Gabriel Agbonlahor's passage only to inadvertently release Moore into the box. Unfortunately, he lacked the requisite composure and hammered way over. It was an effort of the poorest variety.

Three minutes later, however, the 20-year-old was involved in the move that led to the equaliser. Sorensen lumped forward, Agbonlahor nudged on and Moore got the wrong side of Ivar Ingimarsson.

Once more, with just Hahnemann to beat, he was spared the indignity of a second miss when Sonko upended him with a tackle that looked more like a playground pile-on than a legitimate attempt to win the ball. Angel's penalty was clinically despatched.

With Sonko off the field, Reading rarely matched the threat they had posed hitherto. Seol probed manfully but in vain and eventually Villa converted their man advantage into something tangible.

Just after the hour, Moore secured possession in the area and invited Whittingham to curl over. This, the Nuneaton-born midfielder did beautifully.

Barry nipped in and glanced his header past Hahnemann. This time, no-one could deny O'Neill's men their just reward. Villa might have earned a third but for Moore's poorly-timed runs and his slip when centrally placed ten yards out.