Sheffield United moved up to second in the Sky Bet Championship with a ruthless 4-0 victory at home to struggling Reading.
Kieron Freeman’s goal after 38 seconds set the tone for what was a most authoritative display from Chris Wilder’s side.
United soon made it two when Gary Madine scored his first goal for the club, before the Cardiff loan signing battered in a second after 44 minutes.
John Fleck’s deflected strike after 49 minutes added further lustre to a scoreline which was an accurate reflection of a one-sided encounter.
Wilder had in the build-up described this fixture as the “biggest game of the season” for Sheffield United.
And his players were seemingly of a similar mindset as the hosts gained the lead within a heartbeat of kick-off.
Enda Stevens firstly had the awareness to find Mark Duffy, who was unmarked on the left flank.
Duffy’s precise delivery across the face of the Reading six-yard box eluded everyone but Freeman, who scrambled the ball home.
Reading remain outside the relegation zone on goal difference but might have travelled to South Yorkshire with a degree of optimism following their midweek defeat of Blackburn.
But the visitors failed to regroup from such an awful start and duly conceded a second after 16 minutes.
It was an appalling goal to give away, too, as goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez’s short pass surprised Liam Kelly, who was perhaps still recovering from an earlier collision with Oliver Norwood.
Kelly lost possession to Fleck on the edge of Reading’s penalty box and the subsequent ricochet fell kindly to Madine, who thumped the ball into the roof of the net.
Further evidence that it was not Reading’s day arrived soon after, when the injured Kelly was replaced by John Swift.
That enforced change coincidentally brought a hint of calmness to Reading, who briefly threatened to get into the game.
However, such an improbable notion became fantasy when Madine scored a second.
Marvin Johnson was this time the provider from the left – an area in which Reading were hopelessly ill equipped – but Madine still had a lot to do under pressure.
Yet Madine astutely let fly with a superb first-time drive which was much too powerful for Martinez.
Reading’s besieged goalkeeper could then do nothing about Sheffield United’s fourth when Fleck’s left-footed attempt from distance fortuitously clipped Scott Hogan en route to goal.
The result was now not in doubt, but Sheffield United were in no mood for complacency.
And they would have made it 5-0 after 80 minutes had Martinez not expertly tipped over Hogan’s crafty lob from 11 yards.
Reading at least had a shot on target when Lewis Baker’s curling strike from 19 yards was parried for a corner by Dean Henderson late on.
But Sheffield United were home and hosed a long time before that and even had the luxury of resting Championship leading goalscorer Billy Sharp, who was an unused substitute.
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