It was too little, too late at Bramall Lane – Roy Beerens' goal in the 85th minute didn’t threaten to spoil Sheffield United’s lead, which had been built in a lively first half for the Blades as Paul Coutts and Billy Sharp each found the net.
And it was that punch in possession that proved the difference; the Royals didn’t offer enough in the way of reply until the clock began to run out.
“We faced a very good team – a team in form, playing in a certain way, with lots of movement if you give them time,” said Royals gaffer Jaap Stam. “If you don’t do anything about that, they’ll get into their rhythm and make it difficult… that’s what happened.
“They scored two good goals, and we couldn’t go forward because we weren’t taking initiative on the ball.
“We’re talking about the basic things that you need to bring to the game – what you need to do, how you need to start, the intentions that you have. If we’re not doing those things, you make it very difficult for yourself.
“We knew how they play and what their strengths are if you give them time. We spoke about that.
“We weren’t ourselves in the first half. We didn’t do things defensively and when we were on the ball and attacking, we weren’t good enough. Then they get into their rhythm and make it difficult for you. That’s what they did in the first half.
“You always ask questions as to why it comes in the second half when you’re already 2-0 down. There’s that feeling of having nothing to lose, but I think you need to start like that from the start and give yourself some confidence. Do the things you’re good at and don’t think too much about the opposition.
“We did it better in the second half – and when you go forward, and create a couple of moments where you threaten. You score one and you want to push on and get a second. But they’re looking for the counter-attack, and they’re looking to stay narrow and tight and not give up any gaps.”
Preparations were marred in the week when Jón Daði Böðvarsson and Garath McCleary – half of last weekend’s attacking quartet – were ruled out of contention for the game.
But Jaap insisted that whoever is selected for the matchday squad needs to meet the required standard.
“Jón Daði had a problem with his calf in training, so he couldn’t join the squad today,” Jaap continued. “And the same with Garath McCleary, who had a problem with his groin and wasn’t available.
“We needed to make changes and play in a different way – which we can do, and it didn’t need to be a problem, but if we don’t do the things that we said then it’s going to be difficult.
“We need to realise that in the situation we’re in, we need to be very focused and aggressive in everything that we’re doing, and to play our own game. By doing that, you get results. If you don’t do that, you won’t win games.”