READING were made to pay the penalty for a spot kick miss by Leandro Bacuna as they lost 3-1 to Sheffield United at a bitterly cold Madejski Stadium this evening.
Snow which fell earlier in the day in Berkshire still covered the pitch throughout the contest and at times the Royals looked to have frozen themselves during a lacklustre first half display which saw the Blades go 2-0 up through goals from Billy Sharp and Mark Duffy.
Omar Richards scored in reply shortly after the restart before the game was settled within the space of three minutes.
A foul on Liam Kelly brought Royals a penalty, but Bacuna’s effort was saved by Simon Moore.
And the visitors quickly moved two goals ahead again when Sharp volleyed in his second of the evening.
Chris Martin went close to pulling one back late on but the Blades saw out the win which lifts them back up into the play-off places and leaves Reading looking over their shoulders to the relegation zone with still only one Championship win in 2018.
Jaap Stam made three changes to the side which drew with Derby on Saturday with Martin, Garath McCleary and Joey van den Berg replacing Mo Barrow, Sone Aluko and Richards.
That also meant a change of system with a back five as McCleary and Chris Gunter slotted into wing-back roles and Martin joined Jon Dadi Bodvarsson up front.
But that had to be changed just five minutes into the game when McCleary’s evening was ended early as he damaged an ankle when a cross was charged down. On came Richards in his place with Gunter reverting to the right.
Royals were handed a huge let off shortly afterwards when Liam Moore was robbed of possession on the edge of his own box, allowing Leon Clarke in, but he scuffed his shot wide.
An underhit Tiago Ilori backpass soon followed as Reading’s defence looked just as shaky as it had on Saturday.
And they were punished in the 11th minute when Clarke got in down the left and played a low ball across the face of goal to Sharp. His initial shot was well saved by Vito Mannone, but the striker buried the rebound against his former club.
Pelle Clement looked for the instant response, lashing towards goal from the edge of the box but Jamal Blackman tipped the ball around the post.
There was a lengthy stoppage around the half hour mark which eventually led to Sheffield United making two enforced substitutions with goalkeeper Blackman and forward Clarke replaced by Simon Moore and Clayton Donaldson.
Reading had struggled to create hardly anything for their front two throughout the contest and the visitors moved 2-0 in front just before the break with a stunning strike from distance by Duffy, which rocketed into the top corner.
Sharp wasted another good opportunity before the half was out and it certainly looked like a long road back for the Royals.
But they quickly halved the deficit after the restart. After Kelly had been fouled by Chris Basham, Bacuna stepped up to take the free-kick. His effort was parried away by Moore, but Richards was on hand to slam home the rebound.
And Reading were given a golden opportunity for an unlikely equaliser. After Kelly was barged over in the box, referee Andy Davies waited before pointing to the penalty spot.
Up stepped Bacuna, firing low to goalkeeper Moore’s right, but he guessed right and tipped the effort away.
Things went from bad to worse less than two minutes later as confusion reigned among the Reading back-line. With some players seemingly waiting for the ball to be played back to the home side following an injury, Sharp played on and brilliantly volleyed in a long ball over the top for his second goal of the night.
Furious goalkeeper Mannone led the protests, getting booked for troubles and the goal stood.
Stam made two changes to try and find a way back into the contest with George Evans and Sam Smith thrown on but it was the Blades who should have netted again with Donaldson firing wide.
Both Martin and Bodvarsson came close to pulling a goal back late on, but the winless home league run now extends to seven since November.
Reading stay 18th, just four points above the bottom three with a trip to league leaders Wolves to come next on Saturday (5.30pm).
READING: Mannone; McCleary (Richards 6), Ilori (Smith 74), L. Moore, van den Berg, Gunter (c); Bacuna (G. Evans 69), Kelly, Clement; Bodvarsson, Martin.
Subs not used: Jaakkola, Blackett, Edwards, Barrow.
Goal: Richards (51)
Yellow cards: van den Berg (57), Mannone (64), Clement (70)
SHEFF UTD: Blackman (S. Moore 34); Baldock, Stearman, Basham, O’Connell, Stevens; Duffy (Leonard 81), Fleck, L. Evans; Sharp (c), Clarke (Donaldson 34).
Subs not used: Lafferty, Holmes, Lundstram, C. Evans.
Goals: Sharp x2 (11,64), Duffy (44)
Yellow cards: Basham (50), Donaldson (83)
Referee: Andy Davies