Tony Pulis’ stuttering Middlesbrough side travel to relegation-threatened Reading as they look to improve on just one win in their last six games. The Royals will of course have to try and deal with the aerial threat of Boro, and most notably defenders Aden Flint and Ryan Shotton.
It feels like I say this every game, but the Royals will need to make sure to be solid while defending set pieces, otherwise the Boro players will have a field day from balls into the area.
Pulis’ side also like to take a lot of shots and they are ninth in the league for most shots per game (with 13.1 on average). The Royals will need to make sure to apply pressure whenever any Boro players have the ball in and around the penalty box, because if we don’t, at least one of those shots is likely to go in.
Middlesbrough’s attacking players have a tendency to be too eager when it comes to making runs in behind, and are often caught offside. The Royals defensive line will therefore need to be disciplined and structured, otherwise they could be caught in-behind quite often. If they can stick to the plan, then we may be able to prevent the threat of their quicker players.
Another weakness of Boro’s is finishing scoring chances. This is clearly shown by their average of 13.1 shots per game, but only averaging 1.1 goals, but the Royals can not rely on that and can not give Boro too many chances at goal. Players like Jordan Hugill and Britt Assombalonga have the ability to punish us on their day, so we need to expect the best out of them, and anything worse than that is a bonus.
I am going in to this game with some rare optimism and I am predicting the Royals to win 2-1. Tony Pulis’ side are on a very bad run of form recently and this is a perfect opportunity to gain a vital three points heading into the busiest time of the season. If the Royals can stay patient and, more importantly, don’t allow Boro to create too many chances, they will be in with a massive chance to walk away with the three points.
Pace at the back will be vitally important for the Royals because they can’t rely on catching the Boro frontline offside every time.