Agbonlahor fires Villa's survival bid
Gabriel Agbonlahor's superb volley handed Aston Villa a vital 2-1 victory over Reading at the Madejski Stadium as Paul Lambert's side moved three points clear of the relegation zone on Saturday.
Agbonlahor lashed home on the stroke of half-time to add to Christian Benteke's equaliser after a disastrous own goal from Nathan Baker had gifted Reading the lead.
Reading striker Noel Hunt had a goal disallowed for offside in the second half but the Royals, four points from safety, find themselves only separated from the foot of the table on goals scored after QPR's victory over Sunderland.
Villa will be more optimistic they can win their fight for Premier League survival after recovering from successive defeats against Arsenal and Manchester City.
Lambert made changes after those losses, restoring captain Ron Vlaar to the heart of his central defence and handing a first league start to Frenchman Yacouba Sylla in an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
A dismal display in their last home match against Wigan had seen Reading slip back into the bottom three but they came flying out of the blocks this time.
Within 90 seconds of kick-off, Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan did well to tip Adam Le Fondre's header around the post after an excellent cross from Hal Robson-Kanu.
But after weathering Reading's early storm, Villa slowly grew into the game and a quickly taken throw-in created a chance in the 12th minute.
Baker found space and delivered an inch-perfect ball onto the forehead of Benteke, who was unlucky to see his header bounce away off the top of the crossbar.
That seemed to encourage the visitors and they really should have taken the lead in the 27th minute when Benteke broke quickly down the centre.
He was brought down by Adrian Mariappa but managed to play in Andreas Weimann, who wasted a glorious chance by dragging his shot wide.
Five minutes later some disastrous defending from Villa gifted Reading the lead as Hope Akpan back-heeled a low cross from Jobi McAnuff towards goal, where Baker, under no pressure, sliced his clearance into his own net.
To Lambert's relief, Benteke scored a brilliant equaliser 105 seconds after the restart as he fired home a cut-back from Weimann after the Austrian had latched onto Ashley Westwood's through-ball.
And it got even better for Villa in first-half stoppage time when Barry Bannan's shot hit the post and found its way back to Agbonlahor, who smashed the ball into the net with a superb volley.
Reading tried to up the tempo after the break but it was Sylla who came close to giving Villa a two-goal cushion when his shot flashed just over the bar.
Hunt then thought he had found an equaliser from McAnuff's cross but the replays showed he was correctly flagged offside.
Home manager Brian McDermott threw on substitutes Garath McCleary and Nick Blackman in a bid to change the game and Reading created two gilt-edged chances for Robson-Kanu.
First he side-footed wide from the penalty spot after controlling the ball on his chest and then headed straight at Guzan when perfectly found by McAnuff's cross.
Agbonlahor came close to wrapping up the points with a curled effort that drifted just wide 15 minutes from time but, after throwing away 19 points from winning positions this season, Villa looked nervy.