awwwwww cuddles! - Tony Marshall
Nathan Baker may have given Reading the lead with an own goal, but Aston Villa roared back. Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor helped the Villa secure all three points.
It was terrifying, it was nerve-wracking, it may have caused some heart attacks. But Aston Villa's biggest game of the season, against fellow relegation-strugglers Reading, ended in a 2-1 victory for Paul Lambert and his boys, securing what just might be six points for the Villa.
So things at Reading didn't exactly get off to the best of starts. The home side earned a free kick in the first minute, and Brad Guzan was forced to save a shot from Adam Le Fondre in the second. Reading had two corners in the first three minutes and it looked like Villa had no idea how to start an attack.
But even after the first ten minutes, when Villa started to remember how to play the great game of football, the visitors still looked ill at ease. The passing was imprecise and Barry Bannan once again demonstrated why he should never be allowed near a set piece situation, with his free kick resulting in a goal kick for Reading.
And then things got even worse. Nathan Baker, attempting to turn a shot away from goal, somehow managed to put in a lovely ball ... past Brad Guzan. It was actually quite generous of him, giving Reading a chance. Then again, they say expectation is the root of all heartache.
Sure enough, Reading were hurting just a minute later. Andreas Weimann made a fantastic run up the right to get on the end of a pass from Ashley Westwood. Andi cut back to send the ball to Christian Benteke, who easily sliced his shot past Stuart Taylor.
(Incidentally, that Benteke goal was the 1,000 Premier League goal for Aston Villa, although it would have been much more fitting for Villa's season had that honor been awarded for Baker's own goal).
Strangely enough, the Villa managed to get another goal before the halftime whistle. Bannan, so recently the subject of mocking in the open thread for a "shot" that went nowhere near the goal, managed to hit the post. The ball bounced out and fell to Gabby Agbonlahor, who launched it into the top of the net.
Of course, as Villa fans, we all know that taking a lead into the second half only means 45 minutes of pure terror. The clock slows down but the heart races at unhealthy speeds. Reading immediately took charge of the game, pressing, creating chances and generally causing sweat to pour from every Villa fan's every pore.
In the 55th minute, it looked like the inevitable had come when Stephen Hunt put the ball in the back of the net. Fortunately, the linesman put his flag up, halting the Reading celebrations. But the danger wasn't past. Hal Robson-Kanu put a shot just wide of the post. Then substitute Nick Blackman had his close-range header saved by Godzan.
And then your lovely commentator stuck moisterizer in her eye and couldn't see much of what happened after that. There was some commotion when Charles N'Zogbia, on for Bazza, went close. There was also more sweating when Robson-Kanu again went dangerously close.
But in the end, the Villa managed to pull it off, even if the defense was utterly terrifying for much of the match. Agbonlahor, Weimann and Benteke combined well up front. Yacouba Sylla wasn't horrible in the center, and Bannan didn't play horribly. Ron Vlaar was a rock and Guzan should be deified. And Villa are out of the relegation zone!!!