For those who believe that Sheffield United are the best-equipped side, technically and mentally if not financially, to escape the First Division, October has been a sobering time.
This was their third reverse of the month and one which will give Reading's new manager, Steve Coppell, who on Tuesday had to endure a defeat by Walsall, considerable heart. Last night his team gave a textbook performance for an away side against a team who would have gone top with a victory. They surrendered space when they had to, struck on the break, and, crucially, took their chances.
While Sheffield United dominated the first half, they were undermined by one dreadfully lax piece of defending and a slice of attacking brilliance which had stood the match on its head by half-time.
Thus far this season, the Blades have been blunted by an inability to keep clean sheets at Bramall Lane, something they have managed once since August. Last night it took six minutes for their defence to be breached as Ashley Ward failed to pick up Adie Williams, who sent a thundering header from a corner low into the net via Paul Gerrard's flailing glove.
United equalised almost immediately. Whenever the two Michaels, Tonge and Brown, ran directly at their back four, Reading looked vulnerable and after driving his way down the left flank, the latter sent over a low cross which Ward, far more comfortable in the opposition's penalty area than in his own, clipped home.
It then seemed a matter of how and when Sheffield United would seize the lead. Until Nicky Forster's goal sank Bramall Lane into frustration and disbelief, they were by turns inventive and insistent. A delightful flick from Jack Lester presented Ward with another chance which this time was blocked. Three minutes before the interval, Stuart McCall's fine diagonal pass set up Rob Kozluk for a fierce drive that required a reflex save from Marcus Hahnemann.
It was nothing to what Forster, Reading's lone striker, unleashed moments later. It came from nowhere; a vicious, curling right-footed shot which left Gerrard rooted to the spot and which appeared to hinder United's rhythm and confidence until well into the second half.
Reading did not have to change their game. They were happy to continue lying deep and looked far more likely to score than an increasingly panicky and impatient United side. Time is not running out in October but this is a division which nobody, bar perhaps Wigan, appears to be grabbing by the scruff of the neck.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Gerrard; Kozluk, Jagielka, Morgan, Whitlow (Armstrong, 75); Ndlovu, Brown, McCall (Allison, 86), Tonge; Lester (Peschisolido, 69), Ward. Substitutes not used: Montgomery, Rankine.
Reading (4-5-1): Hahnemann; Newman, Williams, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Murray, Sidwell, Hughes (Watson, 84), Harper, Salako; Forster. Substitutes not used: Goater, Savage, Tyson, Ashdown (gk).
Referee: S Tomlin (Lewes).Reuse content