Vital Villa's Match Report - At Home To Reading
Attendance: 28 692
With one clean sheet in ten matches and no away wins on the board, a nervy relegation six pointer at Aston Villa was perhaps not the mid-week game Reading would have wanted. Given that they are due to welcome title chasing Manchester United to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, McDermott's royals could not afford to slip up. However, in what proved to be a sloppy error ridden affair, that never really got going, they did just that, having kept Villa at bay for 79' minutes.
Perhaps they should have done their homework then, for there is a new kid in town and his name is Christian Benteke. On this showing, Premier League defences will now be on notice that he is here to do business. Indeed, after an evening of imposing, intelligent play he sent the clearest message he could to the Villa faithful, the cameras and his manager by converting Ashley Westwood's 80th minute corner. The 6' 4 Belgian giant met the in-swinging ball with a towering header, thumping the ball downward and past Reading keeper Federici.
Benteke, it may be argued, saved his manager's bacon. Having omitted £24 million record signing Darren Bent for the second game in succession, Lambert would have undoubtedly found questions about the England striker's omission more trying had Villa not won this game. Benteke's performance and winning header will have justified Lambert's team selection though that does not tell the whole story. Benteke and Weimann both missed first half chances that many will feel Bent would have tucked away with ease.
Having being found in the box by Holman's low cross Benteke should have scored on the 17' minute mark. The Villa target man found himself with the ball in a pocket of space, though he could only send a low shot to Frederic`s near post, the Reading keeper easily saving to his left. Minutes later Benteke became provider, passing to Villa striker Weimann eight yards from goal, only to watch as the young Austrian sent a moon bound shot up and over the bar. Aston Villa, had they converted, could have been 2-0 up before the break. On the back of these efforts it is easy to see why they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the division, mustering a measly 10 goals in 13 games. Had Robson-Kanu's first half strike not been blocked by the brilliant Guzan, Villa could have been made to play for their half-baked finishing and bitty approach play.
This, it must be said, was not a classic performance and in terms of entertainment, would come a close second to rubbing raw onions against your eyeballs. It was a swaying, bitty game in which Aston Villa never really got going. It was certainly an inferior performance to the battling run out against Arsenal.
No doubt, Villa fans will be impressed with their improving back four. With leader Ron Vlaar absent from the centre of defence, Stevens, Clark, Baker, and Lowton lined up with the immense Guzan behind them. Lichaj eventually replaced the improved Stevens, who was to leave the ground wearing a protective boot, though the shake up did not unsettle a resolute and determined back four performance. Indeed, Reading posed little threat in a game that Villa should have gone on to dominate.
Perhaps Reading's best chance for a second-half goal came from a corner, though poacher Le Fondre could only watch as his 6 yard far post header sailed over. A mention though for the tireless Jason Roberts here, who worked the line exceptionally well though with little penetration or goal threat.
Without doubt Villa's problem continues to be their lack of cutting edge. Central to this is Barry Bannan. Unfortunately this was a game in which Bannan's passing never really got going, the hard working Scot making a host of errors on the ball, much to the frustration of the Villa faithful. Ashley Westwood, however, continued to be clean, tidy and accurate in all things, showing once again that the jump from League One to the Premier League was not such a big one after all. Thankfully, the introduction of Steven Ireland in the second half certainly brought more purpose and and fluidity to Villa's forward play, with Ireland finding both the pass and the time to make it. I'm sure this will give Paul Lambert more midfield selection headaches as he tries to find a way to derail showman Redknapps QPR push, as he tries to keep Villa's new found momentum going.
One things is for certain: Lambert will be relived that Villa won this one. Scrappy as it was, job done. Three points on the board and 1-0 to Villa then.
Room for improvement: Bannan