Steve Sidwell struck early on and in the dying seconds to keep Reading on course for a Uefa Cup spot.
Steve Sidwell celebrates putting Reading in front
He headed home from Stephen Hunt's corner after 15 minutes as Reading dominated a lack-lustre Aston Villa.
Reading keeper Marcus Hahnemann saved from debutant Shaun Maloney, and Ashley Young saw a second-half shot deflected on to a post as Villa hit back.
But Sidwell wrapped up the points in injury time with a cool finish after a one-two with substitute Dave Kitson.
Villa boss Martin O'Neill gave a full debut to Maloney, his £1m deadline day signing from Celtic, with Wilfred Bouma sidelined - but he had little chance to shine early on as Reading took charge.
Sidwell had already headed over from Hunt's corner before he opened the scoring in similar fashion.
He stole in unmarked at the near post to direct a header across Thomas Sorensen, taking full toll of poor Villa defending.
Leroy Lita's header was then beaten away by Sorensen after clever work on the right-flank by Glen Little.
Villa, who have made a habit of starting slowly on their travels, finally got their act together and Maloney had a 25-yard shot that was well turned over by Hahnemann.
Hahnemann then saved well from Carew as the battle was finally joined.
Villa continued to improve after the break, with Young shooting just wide and then seeing a shot deflected on to an upright off Carew - Gabriel Agbonlahor firing the rebound against Hahnemann.
Reading were still a threat as Villa pushed forward, with the pace of Lita posing a constant source of danger.
And they almost wrapped it up with 10 minutes to go when Hahnemann's free-kick released substitute Jon Oster, but Lita failed to control his cross as Reading out-numbered Villa on the break.
Sidwell was also let down by his control as he was played in at the near post by Hunt.
But he made no mistake in injury time, powering forward and exchanging passes with Kitson before sliding a precise finish past Sorensen.
Young had been lively without applying the finishing touch, and he wasted a good chance to equalise when he headed tamely wide from an unmarked position only eight yards out.
Reading boss Steve Coppell:
"People keep asking me about Europe but it is February and we are in a routine of preparation - playing - recovery.
"That's all we are concerned with. I know you have to ask about Europe but we never sit down and discuss Europe.
"All we talked about before today was preparing to face Villa. Next week we will talk about Manchester United."
Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill:
"We played very well at Newcastle and had nothing to show for it and it has been the same today.
"We are in the results business and we have been beaten but I have been very encouraged by the team's performance.
"The good thing is we're creating chances. They will go in eventually. It's a pity we've got a break now because we've been gathering momentum."