Goals from Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor took Aston Villa out of the Premier League bottom three with a vital 2-1 win at Reading in a relegation six-pointer.
Reading had taken the lead through a Nathan Baker own-goal that will make the end-of-season blooper compilations, but Benteke levelled seconds later with a low deflected finish.
Agbonlahor put the visitors ahead on the stroke of half-time, with Villa then dominating a large spell of the match as Reading found it hard to get out of their half at times.
The hosts did improve in the latter stages, but Hal Robson-Kanu and Nick Blackman were responsible for poor misses as they failed to level.
The result means Paul Lambert’s side climb to 17th above Wigan, who beat Everton 3-0 in the FA Cup quarter-finals earlier in Saturday.
Reading, meanwhile, slip to the bottom after QPR beat Sunderland to move off the foot of the table.
The encounter was low on quality, as one would expect from two sides in the bottom three. It was high on action though, as a combination of attacking enthusiasm and defensive ineptitude yielded three goals in 13 first-half minutes.
Prior to the goal-rush, Reading had started well, with Brad Guzan saving from Adam Le Fondre in the first minute, while Robson-Kanu saw one effort blocked and another fly inches wide.
For Villa, Benteke hit the crossbar with a trademark towering header, while referee Jon Moss missed a clear pull-back by Alex Pearce that denied the Belgian what would have been a tap-in from Agbonlahor’s fine low cross.
Andreas Weimann then missed a sitter after being put through by Benteke, so it was somewhat against the run of play when the Royals went ahead in comical circumstances.
It was a decent move that saw Jobi McAnuff cross for Hope Akpan, but the former Everton midfielder’s clever backheel merely served to kill any pace or goal-bound direction on the ball when Baker decided to take a wild swing, completely mis-kicking it into his own net.
It was a calamitous intervention, but seconds later Villa were level, this time after collective defensive ineptitude gave Weimann the freedom of the right to pick out Benteke, whose low finish went in via the lunge of Stephen Kelly.
The half then degenerated into an error-ridden scrap as neither side managed to string any meaningful passes together amidst a slew of aimless long balls.
However, there was time for another goal, with Villa taking the advantage after a brief but sustained spell of pressure.
Reading had failed to adequately clear another Weimann cross, with Matthew Lowton able to knock the ball down to Barry Bannan. The Scotland midfielder’s cute finish came back off the post, ricocheting on to the torso of Stuart Taylor and into the path of Agbonlahor, who thrashed an unstoppable finish into the roof of the net.
With the buffer of a lead, Villa were more composed with the ball in the second half as they tried to play a possession game.
Weimann should have extended their lead but the Austrian forward hesitated when put clean through, Pearce able to intervene with an excellent slide tackle.
Reading were finding themselves pegged back to their final third, although they did occasionally counter attack – like when McAnuff’s excellent cross was bundled home by Noel Hunt, who was correctly flagged offside and booked for his protests.
Villa were toying with the hosts at times, although there is a reason why Lambert’s side are embroiled in a relegation battle – a basic inability to defend, as Netherlands international Ron Vlaar displayed when he completely missed Kelly’s flat cross. Luckily for him, Robson-Kanu also fluffed his lines, putting wide with only Guzan to beat.
Indeed, Villa’s hopeless defence seemed hell-bent on handing Reading an equaliser, as more ball-watching afforded substitute Nick Blackman a free header, which he put straight at Guzan.
That seemed to snap Villa back into life, as Agbonlahor fired an excellent curler inches wide, while sub Charles N’Zogbia put over after bustling forward play by Benteke.
The reverse combination of that saw Benteke fire weakly at Taylor, while Reading had another half-chance as Robson-Kanu put a more difficult effort wide.
Villa launched a rearguard action to hold on to a victory that takes them out of the drop zone, and puts Brian McDermott’s side bottom.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) – An excellent finish and some fine wingplay from Villa’s most composed player, who shone slightly brighter than strike Christian Benteke.
READING: Taylor 6, Pearce 6, Mariappa 6, Kelly 6, Harte 6, Leigertwood 6, Robson-Kanu 6, McAnuff 6, Akpan 6, Hunt 5, Le Fondre 5; Subs: McCleary 6, Guthrie 6, Blackman 5
ASTON VILLA: Guzan 7, Lowton 6, Vlaar 6, Clark 6, Baker 5, Westwood 6, Bannan 6, Sylla 7, Agbonlahor 7, Weimann 6, Benteke 7; Subs: N’Zogbia 7, Bennett N/A