Aston Villa celebrate after John Carew's second goal
By Stuart Roach
BBC Sport at the Madejski Stadium
Aston Villa produced a remarkable second-half comeback as John Carew's hat-trick eased the pain of their Carling Cup defeat to Manchester United by sealing a swift return to Wembley and an FA Cup semi-final clash against Chelsea.
Championship strugglers Reading had looked on course for another FA Cup shock as two Shane Long goals carved out a 2-0 half-time lead for the home side, who outplayed their more illustrious rivals in a superb first-half display.
But Villa responded with three goals in 10 minutes early in the second half, Ashley Young starting the fightback before Carew took over in devastating fashion.
The win ended Martin O'Neill's bizarre statistic of never having won a game in March with Villa since he took over from David O'Leary in 2006.
O'Neill was clearly intent on breaking his mad March duck as he fielded his strongest possible side against the only non-Premier League side still in the competition.
Gabriel Agbonlahor was the only notable absentee as he recovers from a stomach virus and O'Neill must have started to have a similar uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach as his side made an uncertain start.
Brian McDermott's side played with the confidence earned from a cup run that has already been decorated by the Premier League scalps of Liverpool and Burnley, as well as Championship high-fliers West Bromwich Albion.
Jimmy Kebe, in particular, looked lively for the Royals and, against a side boasting one of the finest collections of wing talent in English football, the Mali wide man looked determined to steal the show.
Kebe had the ball in the net early on when he lashed home after Matt Mills' bundled effort had finally fallen at his feet, but Dein's whistle had already sounded for a push by Simon Church.
Stilian Pretrov lashed long range shot just too high and wide and Kebe turned defender as he headed behind to prevent the waiting Stewart Downing benefitting from a deep Milner centre.
But that was Villa's best spell in a first half dominated by Reading, who deservedly went ahead on 27 minutes. From a Brian Howard corner, Mills rose highest to flick on for Long to escape into space and nod home from close range.
Carew looked to have swiftly replied when he swept home Milner's chipped free-kick but the goal was ruled out for offside - although replays suggested he was not.
The momentum was clearly with Reading, and it took a vital block from Dunne to prevent Villa falling further behind when Sigurdsson started and finished a flowing Reading move involving Church and Long.
But the home side did extend their advantage minutes later as Sigurdsson carved open the Villa defence with a perfectly weighted pass and Kebe sprinted clear before cutting the ball back for Long to slide home.
Shane Long celebrates after scoring Reading's second goal
O'Neill clearly needed to get to work at half-time and although he resisted any personnel changes, he sent Villa out early for the second half with a clear challenge to improve or forget about a Wembley return.
Reading knew the opening exchanges of the second half were crucial, but no-one could have predicted the devastating turnaround that was about to unfold.
Young completely changed the momentum with a goal only 82 seconds after the restart. Ryan Bertrand's sliced clearance allowed Downing to cut the ball back towards Carlos Cuellar, and though he failed to make contact Young reacted quickest to ram home at the far post.
Seven minutes into the second half Villa produced the kind of football most had been expecting from them, Downing's right-wing cross finding Carew for an easy headed finish past Federici.
And the clinical turnaround was complete five minutes later, Young feeding the overlapping Warnock who pulled the ball back for Carew to escape Ivar Ingimarsson and apply a measured finish.
Villa's response meant there was a feeling of how many more they would score against a deflated Reading, but the home side responded bravely to the devastating spell.
Ingimarsson had a header nodded off the line by the alert Young and substitute Grzegorz Rasiak saw his header fumbled by Friedel before being hacked clear.
Heskey wasted the chance to put the tie beyond doubt when he was denied by Federici in a one-on-one, but Villa's comeback was sealed in stoppage time as Carew completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot afteer he had been fouled by Ingimarsson.
Reading boss Brian McDermott: "If you are going to lose a game, that is how you lose it.
"We played really well in the first half and knew if we could keep it tight for 15 minutes in the second half we'd have a chance but that didn't happen.
"But I am proud of every single one of our players and it is just a shame we couldn't get through for our fans."
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill: "It was a great spell by us just after half-time. The team showed such great character.
"We needed to do something because we had played so meekly in the first half.
"I didn't need to say much at half-time because we have some fine players and they knew how second best we were in the first half."
90:00+3:21 Corner taken right-footed by Gylfi Sigurdsson to the near post, clearance made by Carlos Cuellar.
90:00+2:51 Gylfi Sigurdsson takes a outswinging corner to the near post, clearance made by Stiliyan Petrov.
90:00+2:06 GOAL - John Carew:Reading 2 - 4 Aston Villa John Carew scores a placed penalty. Reading 2-4 Aston Villa.
90:00+0:27 Substitution Steve Sidwell replaces Stewart Downing.
90:00+0:27 Unfair challenge on John Carew by Ivar Ingimarsson results in a Penalty.
86:04 Ivar Ingimarsson has an effort at goal from long range that misses to the right of the goal.
84:39 Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Gylfi Sigurdsson, Carlos Cuellar manages to make a clearance.
83:03 Gylfi Sigurdsson delivers the ball, Ivar Ingimarsson takes a shot. Save by Brad Friedel.
83:03 Booking James Milner receives a yellow card.
82:56 Foul by James Milner on Jimmy Kebe, free kick awarded.
82:20 Corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing from the right by-line to the near post, save made by Adam Federici.
81:13 Brynjar Gunnarsson challenges Ashley Young unfairly and gives away a free kick. Stephen Warnock takes the free kick.
78:49 Brynjar Gunnarsson challenges John Carew unfairly and gives away a free kick. Stephen Warnock crosses the ball, Ashley Young
has a headed effort at goal from just inside the box that misses to the right of the goal.
77:32 Jay Tabb has a shot on goal from outside the box which misses right.
74:01 Free kick taken by Brad Friedel.
74:01 Booking Caution for Jay Tabb.
73:58 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on James Milner by Jay Tabb.
73:15 Gylfi Sigurdsson takes a inswinging corner to the near post, Carlos Cuellar makes a clearance.
72:44 Gylfi Sigurdsson takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line played to the near post, Stiliyan Petrov makes a clearance.
72:07 Stephen Warnock challenges Jimmy Kebe unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed right-footed by Andy Griffin
from right wing.
71:44 Grzegorz Rasiak produces a volleyed left-footed shot from 18 yards. Save made by Brad Friedel.
70:39 Substitution (Reading) makes a substitution, with Grzegorz Rasiak coming on for Simon Church.
70:39 The assistant referee signals for offside against Simon Church. Brad Friedel restarts play with the free kick.
69:22 Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Gylfi Sigurdsson from the right by-line to the near post, Ivar Ingimarsson takes
a shot. Clearance by Ashley Young. Corner taken right-footed by Gylfi Sigurdsson.
68:55 Emile Heskey is ruled offside. Adam Federici restarts play with the free kick.
68:19 Gylfi Sigurdsson takes a shot. Save by Brad Friedel.
67:19 Emile Heskey takes a shot. Save by Adam Federici.
65:57 Stiliyan Petrov challenges Shane Long unfairly and gives away a free kick. Andy Griffin takes the direct free kick.
63:15 Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing, clearance by Brynjar Gunnarsson.
59:12 Effort from outside the penalty area by James Milner goes wide left of the target.
58:32 Substitution Brynjar Gunnarsson joins the action as a substitute, replacing Brian Howard.
58:21 Shot on goal by Simon Church from inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.
57:33 Richard Dunne takes the direct free kick.
57:33 Booking Gylfi Sigurdsson goes into the referee's book for dissent.
57:27 Jimmy Kebe concedes a free kick for a foul on Stiliyan Petrov.
56:23 Stephen Warnock provided the assist for the goal.
56:23 GOAL - John Carew:Reading 2 - 3 Aston Villa John Carew grabs a goal from inside the six-yard box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Reading 2-3 Aston Villa.
56:21 The ball is swung over by Stephen Warnock,
55:13 John Carew is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Free kick taken by Matthew Mills.
52:44 The referee blows for offside. Adam Federici takes the free kick. Emile Heskey is flagged offside by the assistant referee.
Indirect free kick taken by Matthew Mills.
51:56 Emile Heskey fouled by Ivar Ingimarsson, the ref awards a free kick. James Milner delivers the ball from the free kick right-footed
from right channel, clearance made by Andy Griffin.
50:53 Stewart Downing provided the assist for the goal.
50:53 GOAL - John Carew:Reading 2 - 2 Aston Villa John Carew scores a headed goal from close in. Reading 2-2 Aston Villa.
50:50 Stewart Downing crosses the ball,
49:00 Corner taken right-footed by Ashley Young, Jimmy Kebe makes a clearance.
47:34 The free kick is swung in right-footed by Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richard Dunne makes a clearance.
47:34 Booking James Collins receives a yellow card.
47:31 Free kick awarded for a foul by James Collins on Ryan Bertrand.
46:22 Carlos Cuellar provided the assist for the goal.
46:22 GOAL - Ashley Young:Reading 2 - 1 Aston Villa Goal scored by Ashley Young from close range to the top right corner of the goal. Reading 2-1 Aston Villa.
45:01 The referee starts the second half.
45:00+2:17 The ref blows to end the first period.
44:44 Unfair challenge on Stephen Warnock by Shane Long results in a free kick. Richard Dunne restarts play with the free kick.
41:48 Jimmy Kebe provided the assist for the goal.
41:48 GOAL - Shane Long:Reading 2 - 0 Aston Villa Shane Long gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the penalty area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Reading
2-0 Aston Villa.
39:14 Free kick taken by Richard Dunne.
39:14 Booking Ashley Young receives a yellow card for dissent.
38:48 Brian Howard challenges John Carew unfairly and gives away a free kick.
37:03 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on James Milner by Jay Tabb. Richard Dunne restarts play with the free kick.
36:01 Effort from 25 yards by Gylfi Sigurdsson. Brad Friedel makes a comfortable save.
34:51 Jay Tabb fouled by Emile Heskey, the ref awards a free kick. Adam Federici restarts play with the free kick.
33:32 Stewart Downing delivers the ball.
30:56 Gylfi Sigurdsson takes a shot. Richard Dunne gets a block in. Effort on goal by Brian Howard from just outside the area goes
harmlessly over the target.
28:44 Free kick awarded for a foul by Jimmy Kebe on Ashley Young. Ashley Young crosses the ball in from the free kick, Adam Federici
makes a save.
28:36 Shane Long is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Free kick taken by Richard Dunne.
27:20 Brian Howard challenges Emile Heskey unfairly and gives away a free kick. James Milner takes the free kick. The assistant
referee signals for offside against John Carew. Adam Federici takes the free kick.
26:38 Assist by Matthew Mills.
26:38 GOAL - Shane Long:Reading 1 - 0 Aston Villa Shane Long finds the net with a headed goal from close in. Reading 1-0 Aston Villa.
24:59 Corner taken right-footed by Gylfi Sigurdsson from the left by-line, James Collins makes a clearance. Jay Tabb takes a shot.
Richard Dunne gets a block in. Corner taken by Brian Howard, Headed effort from inside the area by Matthew Mills misses to
the right of the goal.
24:03 Free kick crossed left-footed by Brian Howard, Richard Dunne manages to make a clearance.
24:03 Booking Richard Dunne receives a yellow card.
23:57 Richard Dunne gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jimmy Kebe.
22:34 Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Stewart Downing, James Milner takes a shot from just outside the penalty
area clears the crossbar.
21:40 The referee blows for offside against Jimmy Kebe. Brad Friedel takes the free kick.
20:37 Gylfi Sigurdsson takes a inswinging corner.
19:36 Stiliyan Petrov has an effort at goal from outside the area which goes wide right of the goal.
19:04 Corner taken by Ashley Young from the right by-line, Shane Long makes a clearance.
18:29 The referee blows for offside against Shane Long. Brad Friedel takes the free kick.
13:20 Stewart Downing is ruled offside. Free kick taken by Adam Federici.
10:06 Foul by Stiliyan Petrov on Brian Howard, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Matthew Mills.
8:36 Brian Howard takes a short corner. Simon Church challenges Stephen Warnock unfairly and gives away a free kick. Brad Friedel
takes the direct free kick.
7:15 Ashley Young takes a shot. Comfortable save by Adam Federici.
4:08 Corner taken by Stewart Downing, Richard Dunne takes a shot. Adam Federici makes a comfortable save.
0:30 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Shane Long by James Collins. Gylfi Sigurdsson crosses the ball in from the free
kick, clearance by Richard Dunne.
0:00 The game begins.
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