Sheffield United are clinging to their Championship status after producing a remarkable comeback to recover from two down to record a first away victory since November and with it extinguish Reading's hopes of automatic promotion. This result leaves the Blades third from bottom, six points behind Doncaster and Crystal Palace with two games to play and an eight- or nine‑goal swing needed to overhaul either of the two clubs.
It feels like an impossible task but the same words could have been used to describe their predicament when Noel Hunt and Hal Robson-Kanu put Reading two up inside 20 minutes.
Reading were rampant and the damage could have been greater but for two fine saves from the United goalkeeper Steve Simonsen, who denied Jem Karacan and Jobi McAnuff before Darius Henderson scored the first of two goals against his former club to change the complexion of the game.
The home side inexplicably lost their way as United grew in confidence and it was no surprise when Lee Williamson pulled the visitors level on half-time. Henderson's second and United's third, scored six minutes after the restart, completed an improbable turnaround that inflicted Reading's first defeat in 14 league matches to leave Brian McDermott's side facing the prospect of trying to win promotion through the playoffs, with a place in the top six all but guaranteed.
United's fate is out of their hands. Micky Adams' side will need to win at home against Barnsley on Saturday and defeat Swansea away the following week and hope that Doncaster or Palace lose both of their matches. Even then there will need to be a significant goal-difference change. "It looks nigh on impossible," said Adams. "But we've got to win again at Barnsley next week and then worry about it. Let's just try and take care of Barnsley as best we can and extend our season."
Adams admitted he feared the worst when Robson-Kanu scrambled McAnuff's cut-back over the line after Hunt had earlier beaten Simonsen at his near post, and with Reading threatening to run riot. "It could have been embarrassing, really. We started very nervous and it didn't look as though we thought we could win. But we got back in it and I thought we were worthy winners. Darius's first goal got our tails up and we have obviously not read the script."
Williamson swept home Stephen Quinn's cut-back for United's equaliser before Henderson, who spent four years with Reading before joining Gillingham, headed in Matthew Lowton's low centre from two yards after Alex McCarthy could only parry Williamson's free-kick. Brian Howard, a former Blades player, was introduced from the bench and he came close to hauling Reading level but his 20-yard shot came back off the crossbar.
McDermott was left to reflect on a "surreal" afternoon that made a mockery of the pre-match form guide. "We were in complete control at 2-0 and if anyone had left the ground after 25 minutes they would have been amazed to find out that we lost," the Reading manager said. "But if someone had said we would be in the playoffs 12 games ago, we would have taken that. And maybe this is a good thing today. It could be a wake-up call. We can't take anything for granted."
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