Reading: Federici; Gunter, Pearce, Hector, Obita; Mackie (Karacan 86), Williams, Norwood (Guthrie 67), Robson-Kanu; Pogrebnyak (Blackman 57), Cox
Two changes from the side which grabbed a 1-0 win away at Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup, as Adam Federici returned in goal in place of Mikkel Andersen, whilst Pavel Pogrebnyak made a first appearance since the middle of November, replacing Danny Guthrie as manager Steve Clarke partnered him with Simon Cox up front.
One feature of Reading under Clarke has been the willingness of the full-backs to get forward to support their wingers, and the first chance came down the left side, as Hal Robson-Kanu fed Jordan Obita to deliver to the back post, but George Friend just got to the cross ahead of Jamie Mackie. At the other end, Michael Hector miscontrolled a long ball from Middlesbrough - Patrick Bamford collected midway inside the Royals half and found Adam Reach to his left, who could only find the side-netting with his drilled effort.
Bamford, the Chelsea loanee, was showcasing his skills as he turned with the ball on a sixpence near the touchline to beat three Reading defenders - he set up Albert Adomah on the right flank, whose low cross found Reach arriving in the six yard box. Somehow, the Boro winger smashed his effort over the bar with the net gaping. Two minutes later, a Middlesbrough corner fell to Bamford on the penalty spot, but his placed effort was straight at Federici.
Reading couldn't get anything going in the first half hour, and the away side were desperate to get the first goal. Adomah combined with another Chelsea loanee, Tomas Kalas, on the right wing, and his deep cross was smashed out for a corner by Chris Gunter with Reach waiting to make amends for his earlier miss. Then from another corner, another goalmouth scramble which fell to Bamford, and another tame effort which Federici could fall on.
Three minutes of added time because the East Stand linesman had to leave the match, presumably through injury, but neither side could make it count. As the half-time whistle came, Reading fans reflected on a first half with no shots on target, and luckily for them, some poor finishing from the Middlesbrough forward line which kept the score at 0-0.
And the Boro charge continued a minute after the break. Jelle Vossen beat Alex Pearce to the ball in the middle of the park, then Bamford beat Hector and set off down the right flank - his cross found nobody in the middle. But clearly Clarke's half-time words had an effect on the team, as Pogrebnyak won a free kick wide on the left, then headed over when unmarked from Obita's set-piece. Robson-Kanu and Cox combined well in the middle of the park, as the latter released the former in on goal, but the covering defender just managed to touch the ball back to his keeper before HRK could pull the trigger.
The pressure started to build as the atmosphere became more frenetic under the winter lights at the Madejski. Mackie and Gunter combined well on the right flank and the full-back won a corner which Hector headed wide. Then Robson-Kanu won a free-kick - from Norwood's set-piece, another scramble in the six-yard box which Dimitrios Konstantopoulos eventually managed to quell with his hands.
But the clear cut chances came for the away side. Norwood conceded a free-kick just outside the box whilst already on a yellow card, and Grant Leadbitter found Adomah with his delivery - Federici palmed his header away from danger and Norwood was shrewdly substituted a minute later for Guthrie. There was one for the scrapbook after 70 minutes as left-back Friend joined the select legion of players to boot a ball over the roof of the Mad Stad to cheers from the crowd.
And so nearly from the ridiculous to the sublime with five minutes left, as that man Bamford turned 25 yards out and fired a rocket towards the top-left corner - but a flying Federici diverted his effort onto the bar. From the resulting corner, another save from the Aussie keeper before Boro conspired to miss another open goal, this time substitute Kike smashing over from inside the six yard box.
Though Reading wouldn't cheer a goal, the crowd erupted as Jem Karacan made his return to the Madejski Stadium pitch after over a year out through injury. His first pass was greeted with just as big an ovation, whilst he showed no ill effects of his travails as he strongly tackled Adomah to win the ball back for Reading. The last big chance fell to Guthrie, who fired a free-kick out wide just over the bar with Konstantopoulos shuffling backwards to make sure. It finished goalless - perhaps an escape for the Royals, but this was a result which showed resilience and luck in equal measure.
Most Royals fans would have taken a point against promotion-chasing Middlesbrough before the match, and another clean sheet certainly shows the effect that Steve Clarke has had in under a month after replacing Nigel Adkins at the helm. But it was as more luck than judgment - two open goals missed and another string of important saves from Federici keeping the scoreline to nil. Federici is in the form of his life and surely Clarke will want to sit down with him soon to sort out a new contract, one of many players whose deals expire this summer.
Reading did find their feet in the second half, but lacked a focal point and someone to hold the ball up, play other people in and ensure the defence could reorganize. Pogrebnyak, to his credit, worked hard and won a few headers, but too often he found himself isolated against the swarm of Boro players. Cox was quite anonymous, Robson-Kanu was up and down, but Mackie had another solid creative game - his partnership with Gunter was fruitful and they showed good understanding on the right flank.
Two London trips for Reading next in the league, and confidence will be high despite today's performance being below-par at times. Middlesbrough are one of the best teams to have come to the Madejski this season, perhaps only bettered by Derby County in terms of their play, creativity and style. To get a point and a clean sheet against Boro speaks volumes of how far this side has come in a few short weeks - even if Lady Luck was smiling on the Royals this afternoon.