WHILE Reading dream of facing Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea next season, Sheffield United still appear destined for less salubrious surroundings such as Charlton and Tranmere.
But having urged his players not to surrender their Championship status without a fight, Micky Adams made no attempt to hide his satisfaction after watching them stun their promotion-chasing opponents.
With Crystal Palace claiming Leeds’ scalp a short distance away at Selhurst Park, it is unlikely to prevent United from sliding into the third tier of English football for the first time since 1988.
But, Adams insisted, at least they can plot journeys to places like The Valley and Prenton Park with their pride intact.
“I was proud of the boys out there,” he said. “I thought they showed a lot of pride and a lot of courage.
“That’s all I can ask of them at this stage and they had it in spades. What happens next I don’t know. To be honest, I’m just delighted to be winning games again, especially away from home.
“I thought we deserved it.”
Reading appeared destined for a routine victory when Noel Hunt and Hal Robson-Kanu pounced in quick succession. But United fought back in dramatic fashion with Darius Henderson’s brace - either side of a Lee Williamson effort - to ensure they remain six points adrift of safety with two matches left to play, albeit with a vastly inferior goal difference to the teams directly above them in the rankings.
“It looks an impossible task but all we can worry about is trying to beat Barnsley next time out,” added Adams. “We’ve got to make sure we do that because if we don’t then it definitely is impossible.”
Whatever challenges United face over the coming months, they will pale into insignificance compared with those Chris Armstrong is about to encounter.
The full-back, who represented both these teams with distinction during an injury-plagued career, received a rapturous reception from all four corners of the ground when he was introduced to the crowd before kick-off.
With the matchday programme also chronicling his former club’s slide to the foot of the table, Armstrong’s account of life with multiple sclerosis put Bramall Lane’s plight firmly into perspective.
If United’s campaign has been positively wretched, Brian McDermott’s side hope to end theirs on a wonderful note.
A remarkable run of run of nine straight wins, halted only by a goalless draw at Leeds over the Easter weekend, has seen them tagged as ‘one to avoid’ during play-off competition.
Those predatory instincts were in evidence as early as the second minute when Shane Long scooped a decent opportunity over the crossbar and only an expertly-timed tackle from Matthew Lowton prevented Robson-Kanu from breaking the deadlock.
Instead, that honour fell to Hunt when Long’s pass enabled him to ghost through.before blasting a thunderous shot into the roof of Steve Simonsen’s net.
“We were in cruise control and then everything became quite surreal,” McDermott said. “We couldn’t get out of second gear but, being honest, it’s also important to say that Sheffield United showed some real class.
They deserved it.”
United have also proven unerringly consistent since the turn of the year; albeit not in quite the same fashion.
Saturday’s triumph over Bristol City - only their 10th in 45 outings this term - saw them travel south still harbouring slim hopes of avoiding an unwanted League One reunion with arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
But Adams - who, with David McAllister joining Ched Evans, Richard Cresswell and Chris Morgan on the treatment table ,was only able to name six of his permitted seven substitutes on the bench - thought those had evaporated faster than the visitors’ defence when Robson-Kanu atoned for his earlier miss by doubling Reading’s advantage midway through the half.
Shane Lowry appeared to impede Jobi McAnuff as they tussled for a ball hooked into space but, when the assistant referee waved play-on, the on-loan youngster’s dithering allowed his marker to cross and the Welshman convert.
United’s response, much to Adams’ relief, was instantaneous and emphatic with Henderson reducing the deficit with a fine run and finish from Stephen Quinn’s pass.
The towering centre-forward, who started his career with Reading just over a decade ago, thought he had levelled only moments later only for Alex McCarthy to smother at the near post.
Nevertheless, Quinn turned provider again just seconds before the interval with Williamson beating McCarthy via the woodwork.
Henderson claimed his second of the afternoon soon after the re-start from point blank range when Lowton centred following Willamson’s free-kick.
Substitute Brian Howard saw a long-range effort bounce back off Simonsen’s crossbar as Reading tested United’s resolve with a late flourish.
“Goals change games,” said Adams. “At the start we looked like a team that didn’t believe we could win it. The, everything got turned on its head and our tails were up. It was great to see.”
READING: McCarthy, Griffin, Karacan (Howard 72), Mills, Leigertwood, Long, Hunt (Manset 63), McAnuff, Khizanishvili, Robson-Kanu (Antonio 63), Harte. Not Used: Federici, Tabb, Church, Pearce.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Simonsen, Montgomery, Lowton, Slew (Tonne 76), Henderson, Quinn, Lowry, Williamson, Mattock, Collins, Riise. Not used: Roe, Kozluk, Doyle, Aksalu, Philliskirk.
Goals: Hunt (11), Robson-Kanu (20) for Reading;, Henderson (30), Williamson (45), Henderson (51) for United.
Referee K Wright.
Bookings: United - Lowry (58).