READING FC slumped to their third defeat in four Championship matches after a 2-1 loss at Sheffield United.

Royals ended a six-match winless run last weekend with a 1-0 victory at Leeds United.

But today's trip back to Yorkshire proved far less memorable for the 1,150 travelling fans who had taken advantage of the club's free coach travel.

If anything, the win at Leeds looks like being a false dawn on today's evidence, with Roy Beerens' late goal little more than a consolation.

Jaap Stam's men - shorn of a striker once again after Jon Dadi Bodvarsson pulled out with a calf strain - were second best for most of the day against Chris Wilder's high-flying Blades, who romped to their sixth league win from seven home games this season.

A stunning Paul Coutts strike on 19 minutes and a second from former Reading loanee Billy Sharp eight minutes before the break delivered all three points for the hosts who, in reality, could easily have won by more.

Royals, who did rally late on, have now won only three of their 12 Championship matches this season, are 20th in the table and only two points above the drop zone.

And today's setback at Bramall Lane against the third-placed Blades will do little to ease the pressure on Stam.

The Reading boss made two changes from the side that won at Leeds a week earlier as Elland Road goalscorer Mo Barrow replaced the injured Bodvarsson and Tyler Blackett came in for Garath McCleary.

John Swift and Paul McShane also returned from injury to take their place on the bench, but Stam decided not to risk fit-again striker Yann Kermorgant as he continues his recovery from surgery in the summer.

Stam also tweaked his formation and went five at the back with Leandro Bacuna and Blackett operating as wing backs.

It was from a free-kick conceded by Blackett that Sheffield created their first chance in only the second minute, with Jack O'Connell heading over from Mark Duffy's delivery.

But seven minutes later Royals went even closer as Barrow's effort took a deflection of O'Connell and went behind for a corner. Liam Moore was then only inches away from meeting Beerens' superb flag-kick.

O'Connell's busy start continued and the Blades man tested Royals keeper Vito Mannone from another corner with 13 minutes gone.

Two minutes later Leon Clarke fired wide from an Enda Stevens assist, but the hosts did break the deadlock with 19 minutes on the clock.

Sone Aluko coughed up possession in his own half and, when Royals only half-cleared the resulting attack, Coutts smacked a left-footed drive past a helpless Mannone and into the top corner from the edge of the box.

Royals remained under the cosh and it took a vital block by skipper Chris Gunter four minutes later to thwart O'Connell.

But Stam's men gave themselves a mountain to climb when they conceded a second in the 37th minute.

Again, Reading's defence was all at sea when Duffy picked out Sharp with an inviting cross to the back post, giving the former Royals loanee a simple finish from close range.

The visitors tried to pull one back before the break, but the closest they went was from a Beerens 20-yarder that skidded narrowly wide.

There was a little change after the break as Sheffield United almost grabbed a third goal nine minutes into the second half.

Duffy won a free-kick on the right before pumping the ball into the area. Sharp looked certain to score with a close-range header only for Mannone to pull off a stunning save.

Stam had seen enough, but his first substitution on 55 minutes baffled many as he replaced Blackett with centre-back McShane at a time when Royals were desperate for a goal.

Then 10 minutes Stam took off the attack-minded Aluko and sent on Swift for his first appearance in five games. 

Chances, though, were few and far between for the visitors with a glancing McShane header from Gunter's centre one of the rare opportunities of note.

But Stam's men grabbed a lifeline almost out of nothing with six minutes to go.

Swift, who was beginning to pull the strings, found Barrow with a smart pass before the ex-Swansea forward picked out Beerens with a low cross the Dutchman comfortably tucked away.

Reading piled on the pressure in the closing stages without creating much, while United almost snatched a third on the break when Mannone denied Clarke in injury time.

The silky, cameo performance of Swift and the imminent comeback of last season's 19-goal top scorer Kermorgant certainly raise hopes of Reading fighting their way out of trouble.

But results must quickly improve for the Royals or further questions will be asked of Stam.

Royals host Middlesbrough next Saturday (3pm).

Sheffield Utd: Blackman, Basham, Carter-Vickers, O'Connell, Baldock, Coutts, Duffy (Brooks 73), Fleck, Stevens, Clarke, Sharp (Lundstram 81). Subs not used: Moore, Donaldson, Wright, Lafferty, Carruthers.

Reading FC: Mannone, Gunter (c), Blackett (McShane 55), Moore, Ilori, Van den Berg, Edwards, Bacuna (Clement 77), Beerens, Barrow, Aluko (Swift 65). Subs not used: Jaakkola, Kelly, Richards, Smith. Booked: Van den Berg 56, McShane 57.

Referee: David Coote.

Attendance: 26,265 (Reading 1,150).