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Middlesbrough 0 v 0 Reading
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 17th October 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Middlesbrough vs Reading: Opposition preview
Middlesbrough vs Reading: Opposition preview
Friday, 16th Oct 2020 21:00 by @Phil Spencer

Middlesbrough return to Championship action after a two-week international break.

After a shaky start to the season the Teessiders were able to get their first league win on the board with a 2-1 victory over Barnsley two weeks ago.

But next up will be a particularly tricky test.

Reading arrive at the Riverside Stadium after making a perfect start to league campaign after winning four out of four games so far.

The Royals have conceded just one goal so far this term and that means that Neil Warnocks's side face a stern challenge if they're to make it back-to-back wins.

But what can we expect from Reading? We spoke to The Tilehurst End to get the lowdown on the weekend's opponents.

How would you sum up last season for Reading?

In a word: frustrating. Ambition was high as we went for it in the summer 2019 window by bringing in a batch of expensive players: Lucas Joao, George Puscas, Matt Miazga, Pele, Lucas Boye and Rafael. However, they never really gelled, and we spent the whole season trying different set-ups in an attempt to make it work.
Jose Gomes had very brief success in that before getting the sack in October. Although Mark Bowen improved us significantly in terms of results up to New Year’s Day, he wasn’t able to develop a clear style to sustain a promotion push, and we tailed off badly in the second half of the season, winning just once at home after December.
Then again, 2019/20 was significantly better than what we’ve seen in previous years. It was a comfortable mid-table finish, there were some real signs of promise from individuals like Ovie Ejaria, John Swift and Michael Olise, and we could even have managed a play-off charge if Lucas Joao had stayed fit. So all in all I probably shouldn’t be too downbeat.

Veljko Paunovic took over as manager in August, how has he got on?

Far better than any of us imagined. At the very least we expected him – a rookie gaffer who’d never managed in England before – to take some time to find his find. However, he made a lightning start in terms of results and seems to have immediately won over the squad and fans.
Key to that has been his emphasis on building a tight-knit, focused, well-motivated group. That’s been easier for him than previous managers due to a leaner squad, but he’s still done excellently to bring everyone together so quickly. As a result, we’ve seen some excellent team performances with a spirit that was often lacking last season.

Who have Reading signed this summer and how would you rate the business?

At time of writing, five players. Josh Laurent, on a free from Shrewsbury Town, and Alfa Semedo, on loan from Benfica, have bolstered our midfield. We also managed to get a permanent deal for Ovie Ejaria over the line; a fee had been agreed for the end of his loan deal from Liverpool last season, but we took a while to get the cash together. At the back, Lewis Gibson and Tomas Esteves have joined for the season from parent clubs Everton and Porto respectively. The latter of the two, one of the more highly rated young players to come out of Portugal recently, is a very exciting addition.
On the whole, our business is impressive for both quality and quantity. We’ve added five players who all look like they’ll improve the first team, or at least provide very good competition for others, but we’ve not brought in too many signings. That’s a refreshing change for us given our tendency in previous years to go mad in the transfer market and overload the squad.

What are the squad’s strengths and weaknesses?

The clear strength of this side is its defensive resilience. We’ve conceded just once – a somewhat unfortunate tap-in from Cardiff City’s Lee Tomlin, who always scores against us – and don’t allow many shots on target. In fact, we’ve limited the opposition to just two of those in three of our four league matches so far.
At the other end though, we really don’t create very much. We’ve had fewer shots per game than any other side in the division, and largely struggle to make chances that don’t come through either set pieces or Lucas Joao. Six of our seven league goals this season fall into one of those two categories. Although our clinical finishing with the opportunities we make has prevented that lack of creativity from being a problem, we do need to be much better from open play.

What are your Reading predictions for the season ahead?

We’ll inevitably tail off; I can’t see us keeping up the kind of form needed to get automatic promotion. However, this side does have a lot of individual quality and team morale seems to be at its highest in years, so I see no reason why we can’t be in with a shot of the play-offs.

Who are the players that Middlesbrough need to watch out for against Reading?

Lucas Joao will probably start after recovering from a damaged shoulder in the win at Cardiff City a few weeks ago. He’s our top scorer with five in all competitions, but is so important for our all-round play too, holding the ball up excellently and bringing the three attacking midfielders behind him into the game.
Otherwise, a lot will depend on the supply that comes into Joao. That’ll come in large part from Michael Olise, who’s still only 18 but is mature beyond his years. He could line up either on the left or as a number ten, but either way, he’s got a great mix of pace, close control, acceleration and passing over any range, so he’ll give Middlesbrough a few things to think about.

How do you see Middlesbrough's season panning out?

Certainly much better than last season; I was surprised to see you struggle towards the bottom as much as you did. Neil Warnock is the perfect manager to get you back on track though, and I’d back you to finish higher mid-table. I don’t think you’ve quite got the quality to get into the top six, especially given the strength of competition elsewhere.

How have Reading performed so far this season?

Very well. The defensive organisation and work rate have been fantastic, allowing us to grind out results in the way we have done. There haven’t really been any below-par displays from any players, while a few have individually kicked on really well from last season. That’s true in particular of Omar Richards, who’s been an ever-present at left back, but also of a few others who seem to be much sharper than last season albeit from a smaller sample size – such as Yakou Meite and Sone Aluko.

Can Reading maintain their form for a genuine promotion push?

Yes, but it’ll take a lot of improvement on the style. Reading are very good out of possession, but must be better from open play and create more chances if – simply put – they’re to score enough goals and win enough games to stay in the hunt for a top-six place. That’s really the main test for Paunovic; he’s shown that he can grind out results, now he needs to build a more expansive system.

How do you see the game playing out?

It’ll be tight and scrappy, and the first goal could be very important. I see Reading opening the scoring and having enough to manage a 2-1 win.

Photo: Action Images

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