Late Penalty Hands Villa Rare Away Win

“We posed a threat throughout, but you need to take into consideration that you’re playing against a good side- and you can’t afford to give a team like Villa any space with the quality and pace they have.”– Reading FC Manager Jaap Stam

“I have to pay special mention to the supporters in the last 10 minutes. They breathed life into the lads. For a club that’s been in trouble, over the past couple of years in particular, to have 5000 fans at Reading on a Tuesday night is remarkable.”– Aston Villa Manager Steve Bruce

After waiting 437 days, Aston Villa finally secured an away win on Tuesday evening as they beat Reading FC 2-1 at the Madejski Stadium. The Villans took the lead in the first half when a Jonathan Kodjia shot deflected past Ali Al-Habsi in the Reading goal. The Royals found an equaliser in the second half with a bullet header from Yann Kermorgant after Danny Williams’ penalty was saved by Pierluigi Gollini. A last minute penalty for Villa was the final turning point of the game, which Jordan Ayew calmly dispatched to secure the win.

Jaap Stam named an unchanged side for the game following their 1-1 away draw against QPR. Steve Bruce, meanwhile, made five changes after his first game in charge against Wolves. Alan Hutton, Nathan Baker, Gary Gardner, Leandro Bacuna and Rudy Gestede all came into the starting eleven in place of Micah Richards, Tommy Elphick, Aaron Tshibola, Jack Grealish and Ross McCormack.

From the off it was clear that Bruce came to the Madejski with a game plan. With Reading now known for their Dutch style possession football, Villa sat deep with numbers and looked to counter. While Reading were maintaining a possession percentage of around 60-70%, the home side were struggling to create any real chances in front of goal for the majority of the game.

The first opportunity to break Villa down came after only a matter of minutes when Garath McCleary was picked out down the right. His low ball into the box was hacked clear from danger by the Villa defence. The story of the game, however, was the lack of quality when it came to crossing in the final third. Whether it was from open play or from corners, Reading were often incapable of clearing the first man. Yann Kermorgant often gets criticism for his goalscoring record, but it is difficult to convert crosses that do not reach you.

Despite the home side dominating possession, Villa were the team that took the lead. With players like Bacuna, Adomah and Kodjia in the team, it was clear that the away side would be dangerous if allowed to counter. Adomah broke down the left before playing a low ball across to Kodjia in the box. His shot cannoned off Tyler Blackett in the box and deflected past Al-Habsi into the bottom right corner.

The Royals had one final opportunity to level the score before half time but Gollini in the Villa goal met a rebound before John Swift could latch onto it. At half-time it was clear that possession was not the statistic that mattered and Reading went in 1-0 behind.

With the second half underway it looked like it would be more of the same. As time went on, however, Villa began to open up and push up the pitch more than in the first half. The away side were nearly gifted a second when Al-Habsi’s pass to George Evans was short but it had just enough on it to keep out of Bacuna’s reach.

After just eight minutes, the Royals grabbed the equaliser. McCleary raced onto a ball over the top of the Villa defence but was tripped by Aly Cissokho in the box. The referee awarded a penalty which Williams stepped up to take. The American international’s effort was stopped by Gollini but he could only push it towards Kermorgant. The striker directed a bullet header into the top right corner of the goal to level the score.

The game was relatively even as the second half went on, with both sides trying to get a second. A McCleary strike from the edge of the box and an Evans header were both stopped by Gollini while Bacuna and Kodjia both fired wide of the Reading goal.

It was the Villa substitutes who would ultimately change the game, with Bruce bringing on Jordan Amavi, Jordan Ayew and Ross McCormack. Allowed far too much time on the ball, Ayew dribbled his way into the Reading box and was tripped by an outstretched Liam Moore. The referee once again pointed to the spot and Ayew calmly placed it into the bottom right corner.

Reading had only a matter of minutes to try and find the equaliser once more and Stam opted to bring on Danzell Gravenberch in place of Evans to try and do so. It was McCleary that came closest, however, as his optimistic shot from right of the box narrowly went wide as he fired across goal. The final whistle blew and Villa secured an away win to end both their poor away run and Reading’s unbeaten run at home this season.

The appointment of Steve Bruce is a massive coup for Villa and the boost of his arrival is already showing. Tactically he got it spot on and his substitutes showed that they wanted to win the game more than Reading. A draw would have probably been a fair result but Reading just seemed to run out of steam as the game drew to a close.

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