The January transfer window may have sparked fervoured speculation about Martin O'Neill's target but the 35,000 fans packed into Villa Park to see the 3-1 victory over Reading were certainly united in who the club's first signing should be - their own central defender Martin Laursen.

The Great Dane, whose current deal with Villa expires in the summer, scored his sixth goal of the season and could have had a hat-trick, sparking a rousing chorus of ‘sign him up’ from the Holte End.

Manager O'Neill later said he did not need a reminder from the crowd about the fact that he must sort out a deal with the 30-year-old and revealed talks are imminent with a meeting planned with the player and his agent on Wednesday.

He said: "Martin has been sensational and we badly want to keep him. I don't need too much encouragement from the fans about his contract. He keeps playing brilliantly which is great timing for him and bad timing for us!

"When you consider the first time I saw him about 18 months ago he was walking with a limp and what he has done now it is unbelievable."

Laursen's contribution to the game came after he headed home Ashley Young's perfectly timed corner. John Carew had put the home side ahead after 24 minutes. It will come as no surprise to those who watch Villa regularly that the Norwegian's opener also came from a set play.

Carew fired home with a fine backwards glancing header after Ashley Young had provided an inch-perfect cross from a free-kick awarded after Agbonlahor was fouled outside the area.

Villa have now scored 20 goals out of their 40 goal tally so far this season from set pieces. Their third goal was as the result of more open play as Young and Agbonlahor combined perfectly for the Birmingham-born youngster to slot the ball across the face of goal to Carew who grabbed his second of the match and his sixth of the season in the 88th minute.

Reading boss Steve Coppell later claimed Carew's first goal had been offside but Villa fans will feel the decision was only justice. The referee, Uriah Rennie, failed to award a possible penalty to Villa after Agbonlahor had been impeded in front of goal while the referee also decided to book Reading keeper Marcus Hahnemann when some felt he might have been sent off for another foul on the pacy forward.

Coppell said: "Villa are so powerful on set pieces and we were light in that area. There first goal was offside and their second was a wonderful header but it was never a corner to begin with."

O'Neill, however, was delighted with the win, particularly as he had faced the headache just 30 minutes before kick off of seeing right-back Olof Mellberg forced to pull out of the match during a warm-up after complaining of feeling sick.

The conspiracy theorists in the stands must have thought rumours he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Juventus had led to his sudden disappearance when he failed to emerge from the tunnel at the kick-off.

Instead youngster Craig Gardner returned to the temporary right-back position he had handled so well before while there was also a debut appearance on the bench for Villa midfielder Moustapha Salifou who joined the club on the last day of the summer transfer window.

Salifou, who finally made it on to the pitch in the final couple of minutes as part of a triple substitution along with Shaun Maloney and Marlon Harewood for Carew, Young and Agbonlahor, was warmly received by the Holte End.

The switch of three key players however meant Villa temporarily took their eye off the ball allowing Royals' midfielder Jason Harper to snatch a late consolation goal for the visitors in the 90th minute.

Up in the directors' box there was no Tom Hanks - Villa's latest celebratory fan - whom many had expected to see at the game as he is currently in the UK promoting his latest movie.

Reading fans however will have left the stadium having seen yet another horror show - the Royals have now gone 13 matches on the road without victory, conceding an average of three goals per game.

The vacating Villa supporters meanwhile will be beginning to think about their summer and whether a few trips to Europe may be on the cards.

A win over Liverpool in a week's time would put them right back in contention for a place in the top five and ambitions of Europe quite realistic.

Scorers: Carew (22) 1-0, Laursen (55) 2-0, Carew (88) 3-0, Harper (90).
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Carson; Gardner, Laursen, Davies, Bouma; Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry, Young (Maloney, 90); Carew (Harewood, 90), Agbonlahor (Salifou, 90). Subs: Taylor, Knight.
READING (5-3-2): Hahnemann; De La Cruz (Convey, 73), Murty, Gunmarsson, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Hunt, Cisse, Harper; Doyle (Long, 89), Kitson (Lita, 76). Subs: Federeci, Pearce.
Referee: Uriah Rennie (Yorkshire).
Bookings: Reading — De La Cruz, Hahnemann (both fouls).
Attendance: 38,288.
Villa man of the match: Ashley Young — set up two of Villa's goals and continues to be threat in his own right. Capello ignores his ability at his peril.