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Opposition Lowdown: Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough

Hot off the heels of Wednesday’s impressive win against Blackburn Rovers, Reading face Middlesbrough at the Select Car Leasing Stadium this Saturday. Join us as we take a look at the opposition.

Middlesbrough v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


As one of the favourites to secure promotion from the Championship this season, Middlesbrough have had a relatively disappointing start to their campaign and continue to look for their first win. Boro have drawn three of their four league matches so far with the games against West Bromwich Albion, Sheffield United and Stoke City ending all square. They have also seen defeat against QPR in the league and fell to a 0-1 loss to recently relegated Barnsley in the Carabao Cup.

Last season’s match-ups saw Reading claim a 1-0 home win in September last year, before Middlesbrough took the three points with a 2-1 win at The Riverside back in January.

The boss

Chris Wilder: Former Sheffield United manager Wilder took over at the Riverside in November 2021, replacing the outgoing Neil Warnock, who left the club by mutual consent. Wilder guided Boro from 15th to seventh last season, finishing five points off the playoffs.

His biggest accomplishment to date has been taking Sheffield United from League One to the Premier League in the space of three seasons and then finishing ninth in their first year back in the top flight. He left The Blades by mutual consent in March 2021, with United sitting bottom of the league. Wilder likes his teams to play high-energy football, pressing the opposition with intensity and utilising attacking wing backs.


Boro have managed to generate a fair amount of cash from transfers out this summer with right back Djed Spence signing for Spurs for an initial £12.5m and midfielder Marcus Tavernier joining Bournemouth for a fee of around £10m. Neil Taylor, Sol Bamba and Sammy Ameobi were all released at the end of their contracts, whilst former Reading academy player Uche Ikpeazu joined Turkish side Konyaspor.

Boro have recruited wisely this summer, bringing in strikers Marcus Forss from Brentford and Matthew Hoppe from Mallorca on permanent deals. They have also brought in defenders Darragh Lenihan and Tommy Smith on free transfers as well as signing Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen and West Brom midfielder Alex Mowatt on loan.

Stoke City v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Striker Chuba Akpom missed out on Wednesday night’s game against West Brom but is expected to be back for this weekend’s game. Joe Lumley, who joined Reading on loan from Boro, will be unable to play against his parent club.

Expected line-up

Steffen, Lenihan, Dijksteel, Bola, Jones, McNair, Giles, Mowatt, Howson, Crooks, Forss

Key player

Matt Crooks: Midfielder Crooks signed for Boro from Rotherham last summer and was a hit in his first season in the north east, finishing as top scorer with 11 goals. Crooks, who was originally a member of the Manchester United academy, built his career in the lower leagues playing for the likes of Accrington Stanley, Scunthorpe, Northampton and Rotherham.

He is a central midfielder by trade but has occasionally played up front where he uses his height and physicality to hassle defenders. Crooks already has a goal and assist to his name this season and scored twice in the win against Reading at the Riverside earlier on this year, securing the points with a 95th-minute stoppage-time winner.

One to watch

Isaiah Jones: Jones joined Middlesbrough from non-league side Tooting & Mitcham in May 2019 but made his full debut in August 2021. While naturally a winger, Chris Wilder generally uses him as an attacking wing back. Playing on the right he likes to get forward and is particularly dangerous when he gets in behind the opposition defence. Jones started 41 games last season and was named Middlesbrough Young Player of the Year.