A good point away from home and another clean sheet for the Royals against a solid Middlesbrough side at Riverside Stadium. Pauno’s men showed a confident display in a match with only a few goal chances.
Before kick-off there were no really big surprises in Reading’s line-up. Veljko Paunovic made two changes: Ovie Ejaria and Lucas Joao returned as Sone Aluko and George Puscas, both after a great performance against Watford, dropped to the bench. It was good to see Tom Holmes maintaining his spot at right back. He fully deserved his selection, even though curiosity was high to watch new signing Tomas Esteves for the first time in the blue and white shirt.
The game started with many midfield battles in the first minutes, with neither side creating any danger in the opponent’s half. After 10 minutes, Rafael was called upon two times within seconds. First, he tipped over a deflected 25-yard shot from Jonny Howson, only to make a similar fingertip save soon later after Michael Morrison’s unintentional header on goal. Reading themselves had a quiet start, concentrating on defending well Boro’s early attempted attacks. Somehow it felt this was part of the match plan and the Royals knew they had to overcome the first pressure from the home side to start their own offensive play.
Midway through the first half the men in blue and white were getting stronger and taking over control. In the 21st minute, Holmes’ cross resulted in Reading’s first corner. On the following in-swinging ball from Michael Olise, Joao couldn’t get a strong enough touch. Five minutes came later the first real chance of the match. After a short pass from Holmes, Olise cut inside the box, but his left-footed shot was saved on the second attempt by Marcus Bettinelli.
For the last 15 minutes before the break, the Royals were in possession without creating clear goal chances. The only other opportunity fell to Joao, whose long-range shot went wide. So, no goals at half-time. Still, Pauno’s men gave a positive impression and seemed slightly the stronger of the two sides.
The first quarter of the second half was marked again by many battles in midfield. Nevertheless, Reading looked confident, trying to control the game with patience and moving the ball around, although the impact of the offensive four – Meite, Olise, Ejaria and Joao – was not as big as in recent games. Right after the hour mark, the Royals came again close to the lead. A great play by Rinomhota and Olise sent Ejaria free. His left-footed shot from outside the box went narrowly off target.
In the 69th minute it was time for Pauno’s first substitution. Surprisingly Alfa Semedo came on for Joao. The new signing from Benfica took over Olise’s offensive role in central midfield. Olise moved to the right-wing, with Meite the new lone striker up front. Even though it was not an expected change, Semedo gave Reading’s midfield some more physical presence. Soon later, George Puscas was substituted on for Meite, and Sone Aluko for Olise.
A bit unexpectedly the biggest chance within the final minutes was for Middlesbrough. But a heroic goal-line clearance from Royals captain Liam Moore prevented Howson scoring what would have been a very lucky lead. On the other end it was again Ejaria who had Reading’s last opportunity. After controlling the ball on the left wing he cut inside and finished his move with another strong long-range shot, this time with his right, that went marginally wide.
Soon after it was full time. 0-0 at the Riverside. After 90 hard-battled minutes it seemed like a fair result. Reading played a concentrated match and looked prepared for the upcoming intense weeks. It is said that success is built on a strong defence, and the Royals can definitely count on that. Moore and Morrison won everything and commanded strongly the side from the back.
Local boy Holmes deserves also a mention as he showed another great game at right back. Hard to beat in tackles, with good control on the ball and always trying to support the team’s offensive play. Overall a satisfying performance from Pauno’s men in a match we most probably would have lost in recent years.