Reading edged closer to securing their Championship status with a dramatic late victory at Sheffield United that dented the Blades’ promotion hopes in the process.
Tom McIntyre poked home in stoppage time after Iliman Ndiaye thought he had saved a point for the hosts with an equalizer a minute earlier.
Lucas Joao gave Reading a first-half lead with a shot from the edge of the penalty area that looked like being the game’s only goal.
But McIntyre latched on to Michael Morrison’s nod-down from a Baba Rahman free-kick to lift his side nine points clear of the relegation zone with four games to play.
Despite a win for struggling Peterborough against BlackburnPaul Ince’s side look set to survive after Barnsley, who have a game in hand, were held to a draw by Swansea City that left them 10 points adrift of safety with five games to play.
Sheffield United drop a place to sixth with a first home defeat in 13 games but remain in the play-off places with four games to play after fellow contenders Middlesbrough and Blackburn also dropped points.
The hosts rarely threatened Reading’s goal until substitute Ndiaye slotted home from inside the six-yard box from John Egan’s flick-on to make it 1-1.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side were unable to build on a win against QPR and a draw with Bournemouth as they conceded just their third goal in 12 home games since he took charge in November.
They were also arguably fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men even before Joao’s opening goal.
Morgan Gibbs-White escaped with just a yellow card after a painful-looking challenge on Ovie Ejaria in the opening exchanges.
Reading took the lead after an even first 15 minutes as Joao fired a shot into the roof of the net past Wes Foderingham from Josh Laurent’s through ball.
The former Sheffield Wednesday man let the ball come across him from his left before unleashing a powerful right-foot shot for his ninth league goal of the season.
Joao came within inches of making it 2-0 from a similar position midway through the first half when Ejaria found him on the run.
But after taking his time, he struck the base of the post with Foderingham left stranded in his goal.
Reading kept the Blades at arm’s length for the majority of the second half until Ndiaye leveled the scores. But despite going into their shells in stoppage time, they scored the winner almost straight from the restart.
It secured a first away win in five games and, despite a challenging season off the field with a points deduction, in all likelihood Championship football for another season.
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom told BBC Radio Sheffield:
“We were slow with the ball first half and we knew exactly what the game would look like, but we needed to change the shape and the personnel in the second half.
“It was better after the break, but we struggled to break them down with 10 men behind the ball.
“We huffed and puffed, but we kept playing and kept going and we responded well to the changes.
“But the big lesson for me after we got the goal was the naivety and managing the emotions. We’ve still got to face up to a team on the pitch that still want to hurt you.
“It’s almost as if we didn’t respect that and that’s the most disappointing thing. We’ve turned it into a sprint now for the last four games and it’s going to get tighter than that today as everyone is scrapping for something.”
Reading interim manager Paul Ince told BBC Radio Berkshire:
“Under the circumstances against a very good Sheffield United side, that was the best performance of the season.
“We knew it would be a bit of a fortress here, but when it all comes together with this side, we cut teams apart.
“We just got it all right today in how we fought for everything from the first minute.
“To get three points here at a great place with a team that’s going for something, it takes us into Monday with huge amounts of confidence.
“We’re not safe yet of course, but today we’ve given ourselves every chance of making it happen.
“You’ve only got to look at how all the players went over to the traveling fans at the end there to see how much we’ve grown the togetherness in recent weeks.”
- 25UremovicSubstituted forbergeat Four. Five’minutes
- twoBaldockBooked at 57mins
- 24HourihaneSubstituted forNdiayeat 70′minutesBooked at 87mins
- 27Gibbs WhiteBooked at 6mins
- 9McBurnieSubstituted forJebbisonat 55′minutesBooked at 81mins
- 17yadomBooked at 48mins
- 4morrisonBooked at 90mins
- 9inceSubstituted forDele-Bashiruat 88′minutes
- fifteendrink water
- 5McIntyreBooked at 90mins
- 28LaurentBooked at 18mins
- 18Lucas JoaoSubstituted forAzeezat 75′minutes
- Gavin Ward
Match ends, Sheffield United 1, Reading 2.
Second Half ends, Sheffield United 1, Reading 2.
Corner, Sheffield United. Granted by Abdul Rahman Baba.
Attempt blocked. John Egan (Sheffield United) right footed shot from the center of the box is blocked. Assisted by Oliver Norwood with a cross.
Attempt blocked. John Egan (Sheffield United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt missed. Ben Davies (Sheffield United) header from the center of the box is too high. Assisted by Oliver Norwood with a cross following a corner.
Michael Morrison (Reading) is shown the yellow card.
Corner, Sheffield United. Awarded by Ovie Ejaria.
Tom McIntyre (Reading) is shown the yellow card for excessive celebration.
Goal! Sheffield United 1, Reading 2. Tom McIntyre (Reading) left footed shot from the center of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Michael Morrison with a headed pass following a set piece situation.
Foul by John Egan (Sheffield United).
Femi Azeez (Reading) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Goal! Sheffield United 1, Reading 1. Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United) right footed shot from the center of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by John Egan.
Attempt saved. John Egan (Sheffield United) header from the center of the box is saved in the center of the goal. Assisted by Oliver Norwood with a through ball.
Substitution, Reading. Tom Dele-Bashiru replaces Tom Ince.
Attempt missed. Daniel Jebbison (Sheffield United) header from the center of the box is too high. Assisted by Ben Osborn with a cross.
Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United).
Michael Morrison (Reading) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Hand ball by George Baldock (Sheffield United).