Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Pearce, Morrison, Obita; McAnuff, Guthrie (Akpan 50), Williams, McCleary; Robson-Kanu (Pogrebnyak 29), Le Fondre
With the season potentially on the line, another few changes for the Royals - Danny Guthrie replaced Michael Hector in midfield, with Hal Robson-Kanu supporting Adam Le Fondre up top, replacing the 4-5-1 which Pavel Pogrebnyak and Hope Akpan took part in during the 3-0 defeat at Wigan.
Reading started on the front foot, something which has been severely lacking in recent games as Nigel Adkins' side tended to sit back and absorb pressure. And right from the outset, Danny Williams drove forward and fired in from outside the area, but Boro keeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos got down well to his left to save. Still, with the Royals piling forward, it seemed as though the goal would come, and that elusive one from open-play finally arrived. Adam Le Fondre won't mind tapping in from a yard, and nor will the Royals fans, but the build-up was the making of the breakthrough. Jobi McAnuff found Jordan Obita on the overlap, his deep cross was met by Garath McCleary who bundled it down to Le Fondre, and the poacher couldn't miss.
Confidence finally restored, and those memories of how to play football flooding back, it was Obita who was provider again. Wide on the right, he swung in a devilish free-kick, which George Friend flicked past his own keeper for a 2-0 lead. Guthrie, returning from injury, was playing a few nice passes - one found McCleary, whose flick was too heavy for Robson-Kanu to reach, whilst another found Le Fondre out wide but he couldn't capitalise on the chance.
Reading were forced into a chance after 25 minutes when Robson-Kanu was caught in the face by a flailing Middlesbrough arm. With his shirt bloodied, he walked groggily off the pitch after lengthy treatment - Pogrebnyak replaced the Welshman up top. That didn't stop the pace though, and the Royals quickly found their rhythm again. McCleary pounced on an errant Boro pass, finding Le Fondre just outside the box. The striker couldn't get a shot away, but laid back to Williams whose placed effort was well saved by Konstantopoulos. Sean Morrison then had a couple of efforts from corners, heading over from one McAnuff centre, then again nodding high after Pearce headed back Obita's own set-piece.
Boro did fashion a few chances, though many of them came through the far more regularly seen Reading defensive mistakes. Luke Williams split the defence after ten minutes with an incisive thorough-ball, but Danny Graham blazed over. Then with ten minutes to go, McCarthy dallied on a backpass and hit a weak clearance to Graham about 30 yards out, but the long-range effort was saved. Guthrie was starting to look a little off the pace, and his wayward pass let in Albert Adomah, but he was quickly closed down and the chance fizzled out. Half time came and the Royals were - dare we say it - looking comfortable, confident, and in charge.
Guthrie had begun to look jaded at the end of the first half, with a few mishit passes, and soon enough he was forced to come off - Hope Akpan took his place in central midfield. The second half was a much less lively affair, with Boro never really testing the Royals, and equally Reading were happier to sit back and absorb the pressure before countering. They still created chances though - McCleary ran directly at the defence before laying back to Gunter, whose early cross found Le Fondre. His header, though, was easily saved by Konstantopoulos. Alfie had a similar chance with fifteen minutes left, as McCleary found him at the far post - this time, the striker was denied by the bar.
Pogrebnyak had been doing the donkey work up top, holding the ball well and winning his share of headers, but finally he got his chance. He ran straight at the heart of the Boro back four, dribbling past them all, before finally firing in on goal from the top of the box. Konstantopoulos did well to divert the ball wide, but every official except the fourth one didn't see that flick, instead giving a goal kick. Adkins was particularly furious, gesticulating with the fouth official about their inability to communicate despite their fancy new headsets. The fans had been chanting his name for a good ten minutes, and it was good to see their passion transmitted to the manager - and, most importantly, the players.
There was just enough time for a few more defensive scares; well, it's never easy for Royals fans... Gunter misjudged a drop kick from the Boro keeper which allowed Lee Tomlin space to fire one in from 25 yards, which at least made McCarthy work in seeing it wide. The right-back had a chance of his own on 90 minutes as Pogrebnyak picked up the scraps from a McCleary shot and played him in from ten yards, but he blazed over. Then, in the third minute of injury time, the Welshman played a suicidal backpass which McCarthy had to be quick to collect from the feet of Graham. That was the final action - a solid win, a clean sheet, and confidence ahead of what could be two, four, or even five critical matches in the future of Reading Football Club.