BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE: Reading 1 Aston Villa 2
Party-poopers Aston Villa clearly hadn't seen the Reading match-day programme prior to kick-off. The home side were hosting a "blue and white day" in a bid, as the matchday announcer put it, to "paint a portrait of optimism" in their battle to avoid relegation.
Fans were encouraged to wear their Reading shirts and scarves with pride, wave flags and roar Steve Coppell's side to a desperately needed win. The Reading fans were even down on the official team-sheet as the 13th man.
But Martin O'Neill's high-flying youngsters had clearly not seen the script as they gate-crashed Reading's plans to heap even more pressure on the Royals' as they fight to avoid the drop at the end of the season.
Goals from poacher-turned-gamekeeper Ashley Young and super-sub Marlon Hare-wood helped Villa keep their own charge going at the other end of the table, despite a missed penalty opportunity from Gareth Barry, while there was a late consolation for Reading from a Nicky Shorey free-kick.
Villa had not had everything their way prior to kick-off however with O'Neill forced to make a last-minute team change when Olof Mellberg pulled out after turning his ankle in training.
Up stepped Craig Gardner at right back while Shaun Maloney started the game with no sign of Bulgaria international Stiliyan Petrov on the pitch or on the bench.
Gabriel Agbonlahor returned from a ham-string injury and slotted straight back into the side while midfielders Moustapha Salifou and Isaiah Osbourne were on the bench.
The Reading players formed a huddle at the start of the game as if to signify their unity to the task ahead and started brightly enough with midfielder James Harper testing Scott Carson in the Villa goal in the first minute.
But minutes later Agbonlahor seized on a mistake by Ibrahima Sonko and could have opened his side's account but saw his effort glance across the goal mouth.
John Carew was then guilty of missing a golden chance in the fifth minute after another howler from a Reading defender - this time Kalifa Cisse.
The day may have been billed as a day for home fans to enjoy but it was soon apparent it was the visiting Villa supporters who seemed to be having the most fun as Ashley Young went off on one of his many searing runs of the afternoon only to see his long-range shot denied by Marcus Hahnemann.
Stephen Hunt, undeniably Reading's one real form player, then pulled off a neat back-heel to try and set up England defender Nicky Shorey but there was Young to block his 18th-minute effort.
And almost immediately Agbonlahor was beating Cisse again after good work by Barry but as the Birmingham-born striker fed through Shaun Maloney, Reading's American keeper appeared again to gather the ball safely.
As Villa got more and more into their stride even manager O'Neill got in on the action when Harper and Agbonlahor tussled on the sidelines.
Harper tried to prise the ball from the Villa player after being annoyed at not being given possession and as he stomped away he ran straight into the Villa boss, giving him a shove for good measure.
O'Neill was clearly not impressed by the player's petulance but was quick to dismiss it after the match insisting he would have acted the same way in his playing days.
But the incident underlined how rattled the Reading side had become and when striker Dave Kitson was denied by Scott Carson you sensed it wasn't going to be Steve Coppell's day.
In the 28th minute it was again Villa pressing with first Carew firing wide and then Reo-Coker, playing through a stomach bug contracted during the side's training camp in Spain, found Young who in turn set up Carew but as he flicked it on for Curtis Davies, there was Hahnemann again - equal to the task.
Villa must have wondered when their break would come until an incident in the 33rd minute.
Hunt had done well to charge down a Maloney shot but the ball rebounded only as far Craig Gardner who fired it back in only to see it come off the hapless Cisse's right arm.
Referee Martin Atkinson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and up stepped Villa skipper Barry. He had clearly decided where he wanted to place it but shot woefully wide despite sending the keeper the wrong way.
The penalty miss could have knocked Villa's confidence but instead they battled on with renewed vigour with Young trying to set up Carew on 43 minutes.
And then the winger who has created so many of Villa's goals decided to help himself picking up on a pass from Agbonlahor to fire home in the 44th minute.
His goal in the top right corner was his fifth of the season and sent the visiting fans into raptures.
Reading came out fired up for the second half and Craig Gardner was twice forced to clear the ball off the line in as many minutes as both Kitson and Doyle tried to press for an equaliser.
In the 64th minute Carson was forced to save from the tireless Hunt and at last the home crowd appeared to sense all was not lost as they finally found their voices.
But as Agbonlahor and Carew renewed acquaintance it was the Reading keeper who started to feel the heat. The Villa strikers played off each other to tease and torment the Reading defence while apart from a long range Shorey effort on 66 minutes, Scott Carson was largely redundant.
Now Villa boss O'Neill decided to bring on his impact player Marlon Harewood for Maloney and the decision was widely applauded by the visiting fans.
Harewood has turned games around on three of his last four appearances and this was to be no different. After gesticulating to the Villa supporters to up the ante, Harewood once again repaid the faith they and his manager have shown in him by finding the back of the net.
Young had picked up on a ball from Hare-wood and run almost the length of the pitch before returning it to the Bajan and the Villa sub blasted the sweetest of right-footed shots into the top corner past Hahnemann in the 82nd minute - his third goal of the season.
Villa had looked like keeping a clean sheet when Gardner again made a telling goal-line clearance from Hunt seconds from time but, after a foul on the edge of the Reading area, there was Shorey to fire home a free kick with almost the last kick of the game to give those fans left in the stadium a crumb of comfort.
Scorers: Young (44) 0-1, Harewood (82) 0-2, Shorey (90) 1-2.
READING (4-4-2 ): Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Cisse (Ingimarsson, 72) , Shorey, Oster (Kebe, 58) Harper, Matejovsky, Hunt, Doyle (Long, 72) Kitson. Substitutes: Ingimarsson, Bikey, Long, Federici.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Carson, Gardner, Davies, Laursen, Bouma, Maloney (Harewood, 74) Barry, Reo-Coker (Osbourne, 87) Young, Carew, Agbonlahor. Subs not used: Taylor, Knight, Salifou.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Bookings: Reading - Sonko, Matejovsky (both fouls); Villa - Gardner (foul).