Reading 1-3 Sheffield United: Billy Sharp double steers Blades back into play-offs
Last Updated: 28/02/18 12:00am
Sheffield United moved back into the Championship play-off places with a comfortable 3-1 win at lowly Reading.
On an icy surface that made for a poor spectacle, United led 2-0 at the break after goals from Billy Sharp and Mark Duffy.
Reading cut the deficit early in the second half through Omar Richards and could have levelled in the 62nd minute. But United's replacement keeper Simon Moore saved Leandro Bacuna's penalty and Sharp added his second goal almost immediately.
United led the table in mid-November but a poor run of only four wins in 16 matches had seen them slip to eighth place. Reading, the beaten play-off finalists last season, went into the match just four points clear of the relegation zone.
United began quickly in the sub-zero temperature, with the pitch covered in a thin layer of snow. They missed two gilt-edged chances in the opening minutes as the Reading defence failed to cope with the slippery conditions.
Leon Clarke should have done better when seizing on a Liam Moore error but drove wide with only home goalkeeper Vito Mannone to beat. Clarke soon had a chance to atone but, after a mistake by Tiago Ilori, saw his effort blocked.
Reading were not helped by the loss of winger Garath McCleary after only six minutes due to injury and five minutes later, United deservedly went ahead.
Clarke crossed low from the left and former Reading loanee Sharp saw his first close-range effort saved by Mannone but followed up to score his 12th goal of the season.
Reading tried to respond but offered little going forward apart from a tame effort from Pelle Clement that United keeper Jamal Blackman saved easily.
United maintained control approaching the interval, with Lee Evans driving over from 20 yards. However, in the 34th minute, they lost both Blackman and Clarke, who were injured in separate incidents and were replaced by Moore and Clayton Donaldson respectively.
One minute before half-time, Duffy brilliantly extended United's lead when he unleashed a fierce 25-yard drive that flew past Mannone into the top right-hand corner of his net.
Having created little in the first half, Reading unexpectedly reduced the gap in the 51st minute. Bacuna's powerful free-kick was well saved by Moore but substitute Richards followed up to lash home the rebound.
They could have drawn level in the 62nd minute, when Richard Stearman fouled Liam Kelly in the area, but Moore guessed correctly to push away Bacuna's spot-kick.
A minute later, United effectively sealed victory when the unmarked Sharp coolly slotted past Mannone via a post.
Jaap Stam: "It was a very disappointing evening. In the first half, we were not aggressive enough and didn't win enough battles. We tried to turn things around in the second half and we started a lot better than in the first. We got the first goal and needed to score that penalty.
"If it had got back to 2-2, then it's a totally different game. We were not decisive enough or strong enough defensively. At times, I find our defending shocking. But it's not just our defenders, we have to do it as a team."
Chris Wilder: "Our first and third goals, they were proper Billy goals. And in between that, he probably could have had some more. But his all-round performance was excellent. To score twice was fantastic and he led the team as well. That's what we ask him to do as skipper.
"He led the team by his performance and he was also brilliant in the changing room. We're absolutely delighted with the result tonight. After the game last Friday (a 1-0 defeat at Hull), the response from the players was everything that we expected from them."