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5 Things: Sheffield United (Home)

The key issues from the Royals’ 16th loss of the season.

Reading v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Missed opportunity

In Sheffield United’s previous fixture, they lost to former manager Nigel Adkins’ fellow relegation battlers Hull City 1-0 and Reading were hoping to follow suit and despite a Sheffield United win being perhaps the fair result on the balance of play, the Royals had a golden opportunity to snatch a draw. With the score at 2-1, Reading were awarded a penalty in the second half, only for Sheffield United’s substitute goalkeeper Simon Moore to save Leandro Bacuna’s spot kick and just one minute later, Billy Sharp added his second goal of the game to make it 3-1 and end any hope of a Royals comeback.

However, there was some controversy about the goal as Reading had put the ball out of play after Liam Moore went down injured, only for Sheffield United’s perceived sportsmanlike pass back to Vito Mannone being latched onto by Sharp who finished with ease. While there is certainly an argument of unsportsmanlike conduct to be made, the whole passage of play simply sums up Reading at the moment: missing opportunities, making silly mistakes and being caught out by the opposition.

Richards impresses again

One of the few bright spots once again for Reading fans was the performance of Omar Richards, with the academy graduate appearing off the bench to score his first home goal for the Royals to give them a fighting chance of getting back into the game before the missed penalty.

Richards has done a sublime job considering his age when filling in for fellow academy graduate Jordan Obita and has been one of the success stories of the season, following in the footsteps of Liam Kelly who established himself as a first-team regular last year under Jaap Stam. He needs to start against Wolves.

One step forward, two steps backwards

As I mentioned last week, the Royals had been putting in better performances since returning from their Spanish training excursion even if they were yet to win a game. However, those draws against Derby and Nottingham Forest are now looking even more like missed opportunities for Jaap Stam’s side (Nottingham Forest especially) after running out 3-1 losers on Tuesday.

It seems as though every time they look to show something positive it is only a small glimpse which is then replaced by bad performances and disappointing losses and it seems that the Sheffield United fixture is yet another example of this.

Low attendance

6,769 fans turned up for the game on Tuesday and while, admittedly, attendances do nearly always drop for midweek fixtures as opposed to weekend games, but with 730 away fans attending meaning only 6,039 Royals supporters turned up, that is a shockingly low turnout. The attendance marked the lowest that the club has experienced for a league fixture this season but it is perhaps indicative of fan feeling at this time.

The frustrations that are shared by most fans about being unable to kick on from last season’s outstanding performances, despite increased investment, do seem to now be shown by attendances to games. Not only are Reading losing but they have been turning in performances which are the very definition of uninspiring for the majority of the season. Who can really blame fans for turning away?

League leaders up next

The worst thing about losing the Sheffield United is that Reading are four points off the relegation zone with runaway league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers up next for Jaap Stam’s side. I don’t think it would matter which Championship side that Nuno Esperito Santo’s high-fliers are up against as they would still be favourites to win but off the back of yet another loss for the Royals, there is no question that a Wolves win will be considered as close to a dead certainty and it is very difficult to argue against that.

Should results not go in Reading’s favour then a loss to the league leader’s could massively close the gap between them and the relegation zone, causing the pressure on Jaap Stam to heighten even further (if that’s even possible at this point).