Reading travelled to Teesside following the international break and still smarting from a tepid display last time out to Charlton Athletic. Boro this season under the guidance of Johnathan Woodgate have hardly set the world alight, and going into the game the difference between the two teams was marginal.
The interesting news prior to the kick off was that the £15m pairing of George Puscas and Lucas Joao was not starting. Now, many fans put this down to being rested, but it was only after the game that Jose Gomes confirmed actually the pair had been dropped after their performances against Charlton.
The other change saw Andy Rinomhota recalled for Pele who was late in returning back from international duty.
Boro stated off like a train and actually could have been two nil up in the first four minutes, missing some great opportunities, with the ball flashing across the goal. Reading could also have had a goal in the opening period with Yakou Meite missing a glorious opportunity after being released by John Swift; this set the tone for most of the afternoon.
The rest of the opening quarter was basically both sides huffing and puffing with neither being particularly composed. Reading tried to break down the Boro defence with Swift particularly active in trying to drive Reading forward and Lucas Boye popping up everywhere in defence and attack.
On 26 minutes, Boro broke down the left hand side of the Reading defence and the impressive Tom McIntyre blocked the Boro attacker, getting a yellow for his troubles. Given how early it was in the game shows the composure he has, which is well beyond his years. Rafael really had little to do in the Reading goal, but was tested on 32 minutes when Boro flashed a delightfully dangerous ball across the Reading box which he did well to deal with.
For me, Boye seemed to be a logical outlet for Reading and, apart from Swift, seemed to be the only player that had an attacking threat. This was showed when again a flashed ball across the box again was totally missed by the Reading players. He showed his frustration just before the break with a what can only be described as a hack which rightfully meant he picked up a yellow.
Shortly before the break Tom McIntyre once again showed his composure with a delightful last-ditch tackle in the box to break down a Boro attack.
Half time: 0-0
The second half started in a similar vein to the first and Boro did have the ball in the net. However, the fans’ and players’ joy was short-lived as the goal was disallowed by a linesman’s flag.
Reading then had a period of pressure with firstly Boye having a shot, followed up by Ovie Ejaria having another one which was saved by the impressive Randolph in the Boro net, before Meite made a complete hash of a decent ball put across the box.
Then it came. The composed Morrison had previously had a solid game - which to be fair he has had since coming into the team. But a silly tackle that wasn’t really needed led to a booking for Morrison and, in turn, the free kick turned into a goal in the the most bizarre of fashions, seemingly rolling into the goal without anyone touching it.
The game then opened up as you would expect. At one moment, Meite appeared to get caught by an Adam Clayton elbow which the referee either didn’t see, didn’t want to see or perhaps just proved that his incompetent performance wasn’t just limited to wanting to blow his whistle.
Either way it incensed the Reading bench enough to get Jorge Mendonca and Gomes a firm talking-to from the ref and set the tone for Gomes’ post-game interview. Among all this, Meite blazed wildly off target from a tight angle after a decent break by Reading, when in reality picking the pass would have been a better choice,
A raft of subs saw Reading introduce the much-talked-about Puscas and Joao. With Puscas’ performances for Romania in the international break grabbing headlines, you would have expected the Romanian to kick on.
Boye on went on a mazy run in the Boro box before getting a decent effort on goal which was saved by the outstretched boot of Randolph. I would question whether actually he should have passed to a teammate in a better position. However, after he got the shot off, he did seem to be slightly fortunate when he got a talking to off the ref for appearing to kick out at one of the Boro defenders after a coming-together in the box.
The last 10 minutes of the game were frantic as Reading tried to take the game to Boro with Randolph in the Boro net taking centre stage. A succession of attempts on goal and good play led to Puscas having a golden opportunity to level for the Royals, but he skied the ball from six yards out when scoring seemed to be easier. Randolph also make a stunning save from a good headed effort by Joao and, to close out the game, Meite summed it up by missing an injury time header.
Full time: 1-0
Was it a terrible performance by Reading? No, but there are some questions that need to be answered - for a start, does Gomes actually know his best team? Someone also has to have a word with Mendonca; while it’s lovely to see the energy and passion he brings, his weekly yellow cards collection are starting to get annoying. I love the passion but needs to be like the players: channelled in the right direction.
It’s also fair to say we haven’t had the rub of the green with the officials recently - or ever - and surely that has to turn soon. Saturday’s was particularly bad and we didn’t really get a lot of help from the fourth official or the assistants.
What did this game tell us? Well for me it highlighted the gulf in difference of the class of Puscas, Joao and Meite. Being realistic, if Puscas and Joao are fit, they start. They are technically superior to Meite and watching that game I just got frustrated with Meite making bad decisions as when to pass and when to shoot and him being half a second behind everyone else.
With Boye it’s a really interesting one. Looking at comments and people’s views of him he’s polarised the Reading fanbase with some saying he loses the ball too easily and the other half appreciating his work rate and skills. But is it his fault that the rest of the team isn’t on his wavelength - Marek Matejovsky Mk2? I hope not as I saw enough for myself to be convinced that he could make that number ten role his own and his work-rate is exceptional.
Reading 3-5-2: Rafael, McIntyre (Joao 67) , Morrison, Moore, Yiadom, Rinomhota (Puscas 67), Swift, Ejaria, Richards, Boye (Loader 84), Meite