Christian Benteke hit a late winner to give Aston Villa to a 1-0 home win over Reading and secure three vital points in their fight against relegation.
The meeting at Villa Park was a genuine six-pointer as, with Southampton not playing until Wednesday, a win for either side would lift them out of the relegation zone.
And the importance of the fixture was clear for all to see as a very tight game with few chances unfolded between a side with only one win at home against a side still searching for their first away win of the season
However, after a fairly uninspiring 80 minutes Benteke broke the deadlock as he rose highest to meet an Ashley Westwood corner and head home past Adam Federici, sending Villa up to 17th at the expense of the Saints.
Villa started the brighter with the attacking quarter of Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, Brett Holman and Benteke causing the Reading defence problems.
But it was Reading who carved open the first real chance of the game as Adam Le Fondre just failed to divert Shaun Cummings's cross with his back to goal.
Reading continued to get crosses into the box from both flanks that proved a real threat to the home side’s defence, with Sean Morrison going close with a header.
Villa came back into the half and Benteke will have felt he should have opened the scoring after firing Weimann’s cross tamely at Federici.
As the half went on things got much tighter at both ends and it was Villa’s Barry Bannan who took the initiative to try to carve open the Reading defence with his passing. And he soon set up both Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark, who should have done better with headers.
The second half started similarly to where the first half ended with Bannan sending a fine corner into the Reading box but nobody in a Villa shirt was able to get a touch on it.
With the Villa Park crowd behind them, sensing how important three points were for their team, the home side imposed themselves further on the game and Brett Holman came close with a shot from distance that sailed just wide.
For a game that lacked openness as it went on it was fitting that the best chances came from corners as Le Fondre for Reading and Clark for Villa both wasted chances from set-pieces.
As the match entered its final stages the action dried up with both sides beginning to take note of the consequences of conceding a late goal.
Despite the introduction of Stephen Ireland and Marc Albrighton to liven up Villa’s midfield, chances were still at a premium.
But with 10 minutes remaining Villa, the joint-lowest scorers in the league, won a corner and the crowd sensed an opportunity. Up stepped Benteke to send the fans and Paul Lambert into raptures.
A desperate Brian McDemott threw on Garath McCleary but his introduction failed to spark into life what was now a lacklustre Reading side and Villa were able to see out the game and hold onto the points.
A trip to Harry Redknapp’s Queens Park Rangers is next. A win there and they could suddenly find themselves in a very healthy position indeed.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Christian Benteke – The Belgian striker worked hard all match with his aerial presence always a handful for the Reading defence. And of course, he got the all important winner.
ASTON VILLA: Guzan 7, Stevens 6, Clark 7, Baker 7, Lowton 7, Bannan 8, Westwood 7, Weimann 7, Holman 6, Agbonlahor 6, Benteke 8; Subs: Albrighton 6, Ireland, 6, Lichaj 6.
READING: Federici 7, Cummings 7, Shorey 7, Mariappa 7, Morrison 7, Leigertwood 6, McAnuff 7, Tabb 6, Robson-Kanu 6, Roberts 7, Le Fondre 7; Subs: McCleary 5, Hunt 5.