READING FC paid the price for a late collapse under caretaker boss Scott Marshall to slip into the Championship relegation zone.

Royals pushed the Blades all the way only to ship two goals in the last seven minutes to fall to their 11th defeat in 21 games this season.

Late goals from ex-Reading loanee Billy Sharp plus a Sam Baldock own goal condemned the hosts to another loss that leaves their Championship status in major jeopardy.

It was a painful ending to a turbulent week for the managerless Royals, who are said to be holding talks with Luis Castro over replacing Paul Clement.

And if the Vitoria Guimaraes boss does accept the position, he will clearly have his work cut out if Reading are to avoid the drop.

Marshall’s men failed to register a single shot on target during the 90 minutes and have now won just once in the last eight matches.

Admittedly, this was their first home defeat since losing to QPR on October 2, though that will be of little consolation after another poor performance in front of a sparse crowd.

Marshall made just one change to the side that drew 2-2 against Stoke City in what proved to be Clement’s final match in charge as Josh Sims replaced John Swift.

A lively start from the hosts saw Chris Gunter fire over from distance as the United defence came under pressure.

Former Royal Oliver Norwood did the same for the visitors moments later after Andy Rinomhota had given away a foul a yard outside the box.

The Blades thought they had taken the lead on 10 minutes when Conor Washington headed in from a corner only for the offside flag to go up.

They threatened again three minutes later when a long ball up the middle caught out the Reading defence and put David McGoldrick in.

But the Sheffield United striker chipped the ball into Anssi Jaakkola’s hands as he tried to lob the Royals keeper.

The game settled down into a midfield battle wit chances at a premium.

Royals, though, were screaming for a penalty on the half-hour mark when the ball appeared to hit Jack O’Connell’s hand in the United area, but referee James Linington waved play on.

However, United remained out of luck at the other end after seeing a second ‘goal’ ruled out for offside two minutes later.

This time McGoldrick was the guilty party as he flicked a cross from George Baldock past Jaakkola after a dangerous attack from the visitors.

Yet moments later and Royals were appealing for a second spot-kick at the other end – again rejected by Linington – when Gunter’s throw-in struck Norwood in the area.

Royals are never more vulnerable than in the early minutes of the second half, and so it proved again as United twice went close.

Jaakkola was forced into a decent save to his left to put McGoldrick’s drive out for a corner.

Then from the flag-kick the alert Gunter nodded Chris Basham’s header off his own goalline as the hosts somehow held on.

Marshall turned to his bench for inspiration on 64 minutes and sent on Sam Baldock and Mo Barrow for McNulty and Sims.

But Sheffield United went close soon after when McGoldrick headed George Baldock’s cross straight at Jaakkola from close range.

Moments later, former Royals loanee Sharp saw a dividing header fly inches wide of the post from Fleck’s deep cross.

Sharp though, was soon celebrating after putting Blades ahead with seven minutes to go at the expense of his old club.

Chris Basham was given too much time on the right before whipping over a cross that McGoldrick flicked on and Sharp gambled on the back post before prodding home.

‘You’re going down with the Wednesday’ came the chant from the traveling United fans as they taunted their Berkshire rivals.

And it got even worse for Reading when Blades doubled their lead three minutes later.

This time Reading completely switched off from a Fleck corner which struck Baldock on the back and nestled into the corner of the net to sum up a shambolic finish for the home team.

That was game over and by the time the final whistle blew only a sprinkling of Reading fans were still in their seats.

Royals hope to have appointed a new manager by the time they travel to Rotherham United next Saturday.