Second versus first fell short of producing a classic Championship encounter at Bramall Lane last night but generated no shortage of high-octane tension as the leaders passed up the opportunity to extend their lead when Dave Kitson failed to convert a last-minute penalty.
The award of the kick by the referee, Mark Halsey, sparked mayhem on the home bench, where the Sheffield United manager, Neil Warnock, feared that circumstances were conspiring against him in Reading's favour for a second time this season.
Steve Coppell's side had won 2-1 with a last-minute goal when these sides met at the Madejski Stadium in October, on that occasion after United had seen a penalty appeal turned down. Warnock was fined £750 after confronting officials and his furious reaction last night may have landed him in more trouble.
But Paddy Kenny's superb save probably saw that justice was done, given that Halsey's decision that he had brought down Reading's Bobby Convey looked harsh. Even so, it appeared the fourth official had ordered Warnock to leave the dug-out and he had to be ushered away by a policeman when the final whistle sounded moments later.
The United manager said afterwards that he was unaware of being sent from the touchline. "I wasn't going to watch the penalty anyway," he said. "If I was told to leave I was not aware of it." He did admit to having aimed some angry words at the officials as a result of Convey's reaction to the award. "He ran over to the bench and was laughing at me and I thought that was totally uncalled for."
Coppell conceded that the outcome had probably been the right one. "If we had scored the penalty you could have said we nicked it," he said. "It was like two heavyweights slugging it out and it was a fair result. As the away side the draw favours us slightly more."
It means Reading, unbeaten in 33 League games since the first day of the season, maintain their 12-point lead, while the win for Leeds over Watford helps Warnock's side by keeping the distance between second and third at nine points.
United had gone ahead after only nine minutes when Bruce Dyer, signed on a free transfer from Stoke, justified his addition to Warnock's ever-revolving roster of strikers by scoring on his debut, driving home from 10 yards to reward Ade Akinbiyi for a clever turn and pass.
But if that was an example of United's hunger to prove themselves amid doubts over their staying power, what followed three minutes later was a demonstration of why Coppell's side have been so difficult to beat. Reading drove forward immediately and Convey's dangerous low cross from the left was deftly turned in by Kitson. Throughout the game, United subjected Reading to a level of pressure to which they have been unaccustomed this season but could not find enough sharpness in front of goal to swing the contest in their favour as Marcus Hahnemann pulled off several crucial saves.
Steve Sidwell's close-range header five minutes into the second half would have out Reading in front but for Paddy Kenny's quick reactions, the United keeper dropping to the floor to smother the ball on the goal-line after seeing it late.
Thereafter the visitors tended to be pushed into their own territory, although United were guilty of wasting possession with a sloppy pass on several occasions. Warnock gave Reading more to think about by replacing Dyer with the speedy Steve Kabba in the hope of tipping the balance in the final 20 minutes.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Bromby (Kozluk, 24), Short, Morgan, Armstrong; Ifill, Montgomery, Jagielka, Tonge; Akinbiyi, Dyer (Kabba, 69). Substitutes not used: Flitcroft, Shipperley,Gillespie.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Little, Sidwell, Harper, Convey; Kitson, Doyle. Substitutes not used: Hunt, Oster, Stack (gk), Makin, Long.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).Reuse content