Vital victoryReading 2 (Le Fondre 9, Friend 14 og)
Reading recorded a much-needed home victory at a crucial time to move back into the top six and keep a play-off place in their own hands with three points against mid-table Middlesbrough.
The Royals crucially broke the deadlock early, Jordan Obita's brilliant cross from the byline, headed on at the near post by a Boro head, Garath McCleary bundling it towards goal and Adam Le Fondre getting the decisive touch a couple of yards out.
And five minutes later the lead was doubled! Obita's inswinging free kick from the left was glanced past Dimitrios Konstantopoulos by George Friend and the ball nestled in the bottom left corner.
Despite injuries to Hal Robson-Kanu and Danny Guthrie, Nigel Adkins' men came close to adding to their advantage in the second half, a mesmeric Pogrebnyak solo run only denied a net-rippling end by the fingertips of Konstantopoulos and Le Fondre heading against the crossbar.
At the back, Reading rarely looked troubled by their visitors. And a comfortable win took the Royals into the play-off places again with just two games of the season to play.
Subs: Federici, Cummings, Hector, Leigertwood, Drenthe.
Yellow: Whitehead, Varga, Friend, Tomlin.
Referee: Mr J Adcock
Attendance: 17,228 (659 away)
With a defiant atmosphere ringing around Madejski Stadium, Reading began well and Danny Williams forced Konstantopoulos into a very good early save with a 25-yard right-footed drive that was turned away from goal with a full stretch dive.
And nine minutes into the game, Nigel Adkins' men took the lead. Jordan Obita raced onto a ball down the left, supplied a superb cross from the byline which Kenneth Omeruo at the near post could only flick on. Garath McCleary threw himself at the dropping ball and headed it towards the open net but Adam Le Fondre was in the right place at the right time to scramble it over the line from close range.
Danny Graham had a great chance to level the scores only four minutes later, scampering onto a threaded ball from deep in midfield and racing through one on one with McCarthy, but he sliced high and wide of the target.
And Reading were gifted a second goal soon after. Jordan Obita's sumptuous inswinging free kick was glanced beyond Konstantopoulos by George Friend and the ball dropped inside the left post for 2-0. Own goal.
Friend's clearance minutes later ricocheted off Garath McCleary and the ball almost skidded into the path of Le Fondre inside the Boro area, but Omeruo smashed it away to clear the danger at the last moment.
As an attacking force, Middlesbrough posed a threat and Albert Adomah's right-footed drive from the edge of the area was deflected just wide midway through the half.
The lively Hal Robson-Kanu was forced off the pitch just before the half hour mark after receiving a hefty blow to the face in an aerial challenge inside the Boro box, Pavel Pogrebnyak replacing him up front.
Then McCleary and Le Fondre combined to good effect, the latter teeing up Williams who placed a right-footed drive towards the bottom right corner, Konstantopoulos tipping it around his post well.
Morrison headed over and Pogrebnyak appealed for a handball inside the area after his far post header seemed to strike a defender's arm - Reading were well on top.
Obita supplied yet another good set piece, delivering a corner onto the head of Pearce at the far post, and his header was almost instinctively turned in by defensive partner Sean Morrison from close range.
McCarthy had to make a good save to push away a strike from distance and Emmanuel Ledesma whipped a left-footed effort just wide before testing McCarthy from distance just before the break. But Reading deserved their lead going into the interval.
The opening fifteen minutes were much tighter, Garath McCleary with a drive from distance that was charged down on the hour.
Then Gunter swept a lovely cross in from the right that Le Fondre got his head to. The striker directed a downward header towards the bottom right corner, but Konstantopoulos was equal to it.
Soon after, Reading broke down the left through Pogrebnyak who cut inside and slid a pass almost into the path of McCleary in the middle, only for a Boro toe to break up the attack.
With 20 minutes left, Akpan won a good 50:50 and stabbed the ball into the path of McAnuff, who stood a cross up to the far post. Pogrebnyak got his head to it but couldn't direct it on target and it floated wide.
Le Fondre came even closer moments later. McCleary supplied a good deep cross from the right and Alfie rose to power a head back across the beaten Konstantopoulos and against the crossbar.
Pogrebnyak then almost scored an incredible solo goal, powering from left to right across the edge of the area, then brilliantly turning back onto his left to squeeze between two defenders, and then shooting left-footed towards the bottom right corner...but Konstantopoulos got a finger tip to it to turn it round his post.
In the last minute of normal time, McCleary's pace saw Reading break, but his shot was saved by a low Konstantopoulos dive and when Pogrebnyak teed up Gunter from the rebound, the right-back snatched at his shot, skying it into the fans behind the goal.
Four minutes of injury time were easily seen out by a Royals back line who, in truth, looked comfortable all night against Aitor Karanka's men. And Reading had restored their sixth place spot with a convincing win.