“That was two good teams playing against each other today. We got the key moments in the afternoon and to get in front early changed the whole dynamic of the game.”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
“The main thing we had to do was not concede a goal in the first minute, but we did- within twenty seconds.”- Middlesbrough Manager Aitor Karanka
Many will have been expecting a tight game when Reading took on Middlesbrough at the Madejski on Saturday afternoon- and at times it was exactly that- but goals from Danny Williams and Nick Blackman rewarded an enthusiastic Royals side with all three points. Middlesbrough had previously won seven games in a row so it was a special performance from the home side to not only take the victory but also keep a clean sheet in the process.
Reading manager Steve Clarke made a few changes prior to the game, with Ali Al-Habsi coming in for the injured Jonathan Bond and Orlando Sa making his return to the team following his suspension.
Despite expecting a close game, it took only fifteen seconds for Reading to take the lead. Straight from the kick-off, Hal Robson-Kanu was found out wide. The Welsh International has come under a fair amount of criticism over the last couple of seasons but his powerful drive down the wing was impressive. Even better was his pinpoint cross to find Danny Williams at the far post who then dispatched the ball into the back of Konstantopoulos’ net. Middlesbrough were stunned and Reading had the early lead.
Middlesbrough gradually came into the game and began to put some pressure on the Reading defence. Large periods for the home side were spent without the ball but Middlesbrough failed to create many chances. Chris Gunter in particular came to Reading’s rescue when Diego Fabbrini came close to creating an opportunity for himself. Reading came closest to scoring again in the first-half when a Nick Blackman cross was parried back into the area where Orlando Sa was awaiting. His subsequent effort was cleared off the line by Daniel Ayala whose headed clearance kept his side in the game.
Reading chances kept coming with a Paul McShane header ultimately ending up over the bar, but it was Stewart Downing who came closest for Middlesbrough with a free kick. The Middlesbrough midfielder’s low effort was turned away by Al-Habsi in the Reading goal- something that would have boosted his confidence following some poor saves in recent games.
The home side continued to create opportunities into the second half and looked comfortable. Robson-Kanu was once again the creator as his cross found the head of Sa in the middle. His headed attempt failed to find the target but the Royals were continuing to knock on the door.
Middlesbrough are a strong side, however, and created opportunities of their own. The best of these fell to Grant Leadbitter but his low drive ultimately missed the post. It was clear that desperation levels were gradually increasing amongst the away side as they appealed for hand ball in the penalty area on every given opportunity. They did have a great opportunity to level the score, however, when substitute Carlos De Pena headed just wide having been found by Emilio Nsue. It was a nervy period for the home fans but Reading were to come away unscathed.
While Middlesbrough were doing their best to even the score, it was the home side that was to score late in the second half and seal the victory. Reading’s top scorer Blackman was brought down in the box when he was about to pull the trigger and the referee subsequently awarded the penalty. The man of the moment stepped up and calmly slotted the penalty into the net. It took Blackman to nine goals for the season and the victory took Reading back to third in the table.
Despite having to deal with a Middlesbrough side capable of maintaining large periods of possession, Reading were not overly threatened by the away side. It was a great performance once again from the team as a whole with strong performances throughout. The early goal certainly helped, giving the home side something to protect, and this meant the team had to sit back and counter when given the chance. Players like Blackman subsequently had few opportunities to make an impact offensively but stepped up at the crucial moment.
Defensively, Michael Hector and Paul McShane were outstanding once again while Oliver Norwood and Danny Williams did not stop working in the centre of midfield. One person that also deserves a mention is Hal Robson-Kanu. As previously mentioned he has come under much criticism but his performance against Middlesbrough was amongst his best. Fans will always like it when a player works hard and Robson-Kanu continuously chased down the ball. Maybe he has realised that he will have to work in order to stay in the team, but either way he is beginning to perform in the manner he does for his country.
If there was a weakness for Reading it would have been Lucas Piazon. Following his strong performance against Burnley I would not have expected to be saying such things but he was a fair way off his best. The Chelsea youngster struggled to hold onto the ball and was eased aside on numerous occasions. Right up until the moment he was taken off, he struggled to get into the game and he was the clear weakness amongst a strong Reading side.
Overall, however, it was a great day at the office for Reading despite the continued inconsistency of decisions made by referee Keith Stroud. The Royals have narrowed the gap to the Championship leaders Brighton to only four points and go into the International break as one of the early candidates for promotion. It is still early days but you can safely say that optimism is high amongst everyone associated with the club. With Charlton and Rotherham up next, you feel that their run can also go on for a little while yet.