Reading produced the perfect riposte to a day of embarrassment and unearthed a brand new hero into the bargain.
Seven days after being humiliated at Norwich, Jaap Stam’s side got their promotion challenge firmly back on the rails courtesy of an unlikely star. Joseph Mendes had not started a league game for the Royals in an injury-blighted nine months since moving from Le Havre.
However, clearly a believer that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the striker announced his arrival into the Championship play-off scene with crucial goals early in each half as his side responded stylishly from last weekend’s 7-1 thrashing at Carrow Road.
The 26-year-old Frenchman might even have marked his full League debut with a hat-trick had he not squandered a first-half chance arguably better than either of those he converted. Yet his first significant contribution for the Royals will do just fine for Stam, who saw on-loan Bournemouth forward Lewis Grabban lay on both Mendes goals before completing the scoring with a late penalty for his first goal for Reading.
“Joseph has been working very hard over the last couple of months,” said Stam. “He has been impressive in training sessions and Under-23 games, so sometimes you have to give the player a chance to prove himself, and he has taken that chance.
“He’s done very well and that’s a big compliment to his response to the situation he has been in. I am very happy with the character of my team throughout the whole season.
“We’ve done very well, we’ve played very well, so sometimes you get defeats, but we’re not too worried about defeats.
“At Norwich you know you can lose, you can talk about the scoreline and about the amount of goals. Of course, we do that as well, but at the end of the day, having a defeat, it’s about how you then bounce back.”
For Villa, defeat ended a run of five successive home victories on a day when too few of Steve Bruce’s players met their recent high standards, although they were level at half-time after James Chester cancelled out Mendes’s early opener.
"I don't like getting beaten and I don't like getting beaten by sloppiness," said Bruce. "I thought that was a thing of the past, a performance like that. At a club like ours we can't afford to do that.
"I couldn't fault their effort but it was how they handled making a mistake, if you're going to play for a big club like this and you've got to be able to handle that. We made more individual errors than we have done in the past three months. We have been punished and given really, really bad goals away."
The visitors took less than six minutes to get their chastening day in Norfolk out of their system as Mendes grabbed the opening goal. Lewis Grabban was given time and space to pick out Mendes, who had an equal amount of leeway to pick his spot and finish past Sam Johnston.
Jonathan Kodjia twice went close for Villa before the hosts conjured the equaliser on 14 minutes. Henri Lansbury’s touch from Mile Jedinak’s long-range drive forced goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi into an excellent save, but the goalkeeper was in no man’s land seconds later as Conor Hourihane’s corner was headed past him by the leaping Chester.
Reading should have added a second goal as Villa left-back Jordan Amavi went missing and allowed Grabban to burst into space. He crossed for fellow striker Mendes at the far post, but the earlier goalscorer blazed a superb chance over the crossbar.
Reading regained the lead, however, only 19 seconds into the second half despite their opponents restarting the game. They won possession and broke down the right through Grabban, who again crossed for Mendes to tap home from close range.
Villa screamed for a penalty for handball when a Jedinak shot cannoned off several Reading players, and substitute Scott Hogan then fired an excellent chance wide from a Jedinak cross.
But their hopes of a comeback were ended when Leandro Bacuna was penalised for a blatant pull on Liam Kelly and Grabban slid a low spot-kick past Johnstone to seal Reading’s first ever win at Villa Park at the 11th attempt.