Reading: Federici; Gunter (c), Obita, Pearce, Hector; Kuhl (Akpan), Norwood (Cooper), Taylor, Edwards, Mackie; Cox (Tanner)
With an ever-growing injury list of 11 players, including the majority of Reading's senior midfielders, most fans, admittedly myself included, would have seen any sort of result as a bonus for Nigel Adkins' young side, especially against a good Middlesbrough team who had added the likes of Adam Clayton to the tricky feet of Albert Adomah and the composure of George Friend this summer, and were ably guided by Aitor Karanka, yet another of Jose Mourinho's protégés trying to make his way as a coach in English football, as their manager.
So I was delighted when, after weathering an early storm of ‘Boro crosses, Reading took the lead through a Simon Cox lob. The manner in which the goal was scored was pleasing too: a short passing move, involving most of Reading's attacking players, worked space in between the centre backs for Cox. Although Edwards' pass through received a hefty deflection, Cox's opportunistic finish, combining the clinical and classy sides of his game, is the sign of a frontman somewhere near his best, and as Reading fans know, a guaranteed source of goals is a huge advantage in the Championship.
As well as the goal-getting, any good Championship team needs a solid defence, and Reading were certainly given a stern test in that department over the 90 minutes. After half time, Albert Adomah's pace and footwork began to cause more problems for the attacking-minded left back Jordan Obita, and Adkins replaced Aaron Kuhl, who again impressed through his wide range of passing, with Hope Akpan, whose pace and strength more suited the covering role now required of the holding midfielders. Akpan has been the subject of a lot of criticism from fans lately, but he dealt with Middlesbrough's midfield well, and greatly reduced the treat of Adomah. However, his slide down the central midfield pecking order to below 18-year-old Kuhl could lead to a curtailing of his Reading career, with Guthrie, Williams and club captain Karacan due to return from injury and constant rumours of a move for experienced Leicester City midfielder Dean Hammond.
In a panicky last few minutes, Middlesbrough had a few chances to snatch a result, but ultimately failed to test Federici and that cost them the game - the closest they came to a goal was when Royals' skipper Chris Gunter inadvertently turned a cross onto the woodwork at the near post. At the other end, Jamie Mackie worked tirelessly as a central striker holding the ball up to close out the game as Adkins replaced goal-scorer Cox with the more energetic Craig Tanner to help press the ‘Boro defence. Lanky centre back Jake Cooper also made an appearance, on for tidy midfielder Oliver Norwood to strengthen the back line as full time approached. Michael Hector again impressed with his pace, strength and positioning, only fleetingly showing glimpses of the inexperience that contributed to our last home defeat against Huddersfield.
Overall, it was a professional performance from Reading to keep a clean sheet and earn 3 points, and although it wasn't the most entertaining encounter, with players soon to return from injury, more arrivals imminent as deadline day approaches, and a constantly improving young squad, Reading fans can have a reasonable positivity about the club's immediate future.