BILLY Sharp turned the tables on Reading FC by firing Sheffield United to a convincing victory at Madejski Stadium.

The 32-year-old striker, who had a loan spell with Royals from Southampton in 2013/14, scored either side of the break to send Blades into the top six.

Mark Duffy also hit a screamer for Chris Wilder’s visitors to put them 2-0 up at the break.

Omar Richards, an early injury replacement for Garath McCleary, pulled one back for the Royals on 51 minutes with his second goal in a week.

But Royals threw away a glorious chance to make it 2-2 on the hour when Leandro Bacuna’s penalty was saved by United’s sub keeper Simon Moore.

To rub salt into Reading’s wounds, Blades added a contentious third moments later.

Chris Gunter allowed the ball to run out so team-mate Liam Moore could receive treatment.

But Royals switched off as United took a quick throw and Sharp went on to score to put the game to bed.

Bad sportsmanship from the Blades? Or naïve by Reading?  In truth, the incident could not be blamed for another largely insipid display from Jaap Stam’s men.

United were a yard quicker all over the pitch, while Royals looked nervous, particularly in defence as they crashed to their 16th defeat of the Championship campaign to leave them four points above the relegation zone in 18th place.

And Stam’s men must find a quick solution or the trap door into League One will suddenly grow even closer.

Reading Chronicle:

Garath McCleary lies injured on the snowy Madejski Stadium turf.

Stam made three changes from the side that secured an encouraging 3-3 draw with Derby County on Saturday.

Chris Martin returned after missing the clash due terms of his loan deal, while McCleary and Joey van den Berg also got the nod.

That meant Richards and Mo Barrow dropped to the bench, the later after picking up a late knock in the draw he helped orchestrate against Derby.

Sone Aluko was also missing from the squad through illness, while Stam was forced to tweak his formation and go to a back three of Tiago Ilori, Moore and Van den Berg.

However, he was forced to change his plans when McCleary limped off in the sixth minute, to be replaced by Richards.

Royals’ winger appeared to slip on the frosty surface as he entered the Blades box and went down clutching his knee.

Reading Chronicle:

Chris Martin attempts to block a clearance.

And a minute later Stam’s men were lucky not to concede in comical fashion.

Moore failed to control a simple Vito Mannone pass and was robbed on the edge of the box by Leon Clarke.

But Clarke ignored Sharp outside him and went for glory, only for Mannone to come to Reading’s rescue with a vital stop.

Sadly, Royals failed to need the warning and fell behind in the 11th minute.

Clarke wriggled free of Ilorii on the left and picked out Sharp with an accurate pass.

The Blades striker needed two bites of the cherry, prodding past Mannone after his initial effort had been saved.

It was a poor start from the home side and the sparse crowd of under 7,000 were quick to let their feelings know.

Reading responded, Pelle Clement forcing Jamal Blackman to dive full-stretch to keep out his snap-shot from 20 yards following a Liam Kelly corner.

But they rarely looked like breaking down a rock-solid Blades defence.

Yet the visitors were also forced into a reshuffle when keeper Blackman and Clarke both hobbled off with injuries in the 34th minute, with Simon Moore and Clayton Donaldson coming on.

They still looked the more potent threat as Donaldson poked wide of the near post via an Ilori deflection that referee Andy Davies failed to spot.

Reading Chronicle:

Liam Moore is shut out by the Blades defence.

Reading survived and were in sight of half time when Blades scored a second from out of nowhere.

Duffy appeared to have little on when he collected a pass on the left, so he took aim before hammering the ball past Mannone and into the roof of the net from at least 20 yards out on the angle.

It was a brilliant strike from Duffy, but questions will be asked of Mannone’s positioning as he was beaten at his near post from a long way out.

Reading, though, regrouped and came flying out of the traps for the second half, with Richards pulling one back within six minutes of the restart.

Kelly was bundled over by Chris Basham and, although Clement’s free-kick was pushed out by Moore, Richards was quickest to the rebound and rifled the ball into the roof of the net from the tightest of angles.

Blades continued to probe as Reading relied on a crucial save from Mannone to deny George Baldock on the hour mark.

But a minute later Stam’s men had a chance to level when Kelly was body-checked by Richard Stearman and went down in the box, with Davies pointing to the spot.

Sadly, Bacuna’s penalty was a nice height for Moore, who dived to his right to keep the Blades in front.

Reading Chronicle:

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson braves the freezing conditions.

It was the turning point of the match as Wilder’s visitors regained their two-goal cushion within a couple of minutes and in controversial circumstances.

Gunter allowed Mannone’s throw to run out of play so Royals defender Moore could receive treatment.

But United took a quick throw, launched it long and Sharp kept his composure by firing past Mannone for his second of the night.

Reading – and Mannone in particular – were fuming, but the goal stood, despite the protest of the angry home fans.

There was no coming back from there and Blades remained in control with Donaldson and Sharp both going agonisingly close to adding a fourth.

Reading, with only one win in their last 14 Championship matches, face another tough test this Saturday when they travel to runaway leaders Wolves.

Reading: Mannone, Gunter (c), Moore, Ilori (Smith 75), Bacuna (Evans 69), Van den Berg, Clement, Kelly, McCleary (Richards 6), Bodvarsson, Martin. Subs not used: Jaakkola, Edwards, Barrow, Blackett. Booked: Van den Berg 57, Mannone 64, Clement 70.

Sheffield United: Blackman (Moore 34), Baldock, Stevens, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Stearman, Evans, Duffy (Leonard 82), Sharp, Clarke (Donaldson 34). Subs not used: Lundstram, Lafferty, Holmes, Evans. Booked: Basham 50, Donaldson 83.

Referee: Andy Davies.

Attendance: 6,769 (Sheff Utd 730).