|Middlesbrough 0 v 0 Reading|
Saturday, 17th October 2020 Kick-off 15:00
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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