A penalty kick and a close range header from £15m striker Britt Assombalonga handed visitors Middlesbrough a victory at Madejski Stadium this afternoon as the Royals toiled against Garry Monk's men.
- Leadbitter puts Boro ahead from the spot after Van den Berg foul on Assombalonga
- Nasty clash of heads sees Moore get stitches and Ilori replaced by Blackett after half an hour.
- Smith and Aluko force good saves from Randolph with powerful drives
- Assombalonga heads home visitors' second from close range
- Kermorgant returns from injury layoff to make substitute appearance
Young striker Sam Smith was named in the starting eleven, handed his first league start in his fledgling career, while Yann Kermorgant bolstered the manager's options by returning from hip and groin surgery that had sidelined him all season so far.
And the home side settled the quicker with Aluko arcing a tasty cross into the middle by across the face of goal untouched, then Smith ran onto a ball over the top but the offside flag stopped him before he could get an early sighter at goal.
But against the run of play, Garry Monk's men were given a golden opportunity to open the scoring from the spot. A Christie cross into the middle was only headed down as far as Assombalonga who went to ground after feeling an arm from Joey van den Berg obstruct him. Grant Leadbitter stepped up and slammed high past Mannone to make it 1-0.
The Royals looked for an early response and a neat one-two between Swift and Aluko saw the latter take aim from 22 yards out but arrow just over the crossbar.
But the best laid plans were thrown further into disarray when Moore and Ilori clashed heads in clearing an aerial ball and both needed lengthy treatment after what looked like a nasty accident. Ilori was stretchered off to be replaced by Tyler Blackett, while Moore strode off to get stitches in the hope he could return.
In the meantime, the ten men of Reading nearly levelled - the ball was swept out wide to Gunter who took a great first touch to get in behind and deliver an early low cross. Smith raced towards the ball but Ayala did enough to deny him a stab at goal on the edge of the six yard box.
Moore returned bandaged up to the home crowd's delight and restored to eleven, the Royals almost immediately worked an opportunity to score. A low ball through the Boro defence was only half cut out and Smith recycled it with a placed cross towards Beerens. But, in two minds, the Dutchman lofted a the ball into the arms of Randolph with a cross that turned into a tame attempt at goal.
Next, Gunter made more progress down the right, beating his man to float a cross into the near post where Smith attacked it, but his glancing header dropped wide of the left post to the home fans' dismay.
Seven minutes of injury time were signalled after such a long stoppage, but a Kelly-led break was cut out as his pass looking for Beerens was intercepted and the teams went in for a half-time debrief.
Half time | Reading 0-1 Middlesbrough
The first chance of the second half fell to Smith, who beat Ayala to scurry into the Boro box and, cutting onto his left boot, he took aim and forced a fine save from Randolph who did enough to parry the ball away to safety.
Gunter was cynically tripped by Fabio as he raced down the right and a free kick was delivered into a crowded Middlesbrough box - McShane went flying and appealed for a penalty after he felt he,'d been pushed, but nothing was given by referee Oliver Langford.
The battle between McShane and Assombalonga continued and the Irish defender did enough to force the Boro striker to shoot well wide as he counter attacked at pace but failed to test Mannone.
Swift and Kelly combined to feed the ball into the feet of Smith and he tried to get a yard to pull the trigger but took a tumble inside the box and the referee dismissed appeals for a spotkick.
Randolph had to be alert to dive low to his right to keep a scuffed Swift effort out as the hosts upped the tempo in search of an equaliser.
But Assombalonga headed home Howson's dinked cross to put the game to bet with 16 minutes remaining. The £15m striker had proved a handful all afternoon and he got in between Gunter and McShane to head high past Mannone from six yards out and make it 2-0.
Yann Kermorgant came off the bench for his first appearance of the season, but Downing took aim with a fiercely struck effort that deflected out for a corner. That corner was met by a thunderous header from Ayala which Gunter nodded clear. And it took a good Mannone block to thwart Johnson as the visitors looked to exploit the spaces left by a Reading side searching for a goal.
As full-time appraoched, Aluko volleyed a sweetly struck volley towards the bottom right corner, but Randolph was equal to it, tipping it around his post to concede a corner. And the ball dropped down to Kermorgant who could only arrow a very difficult hooked effort over the bar under pressure.
But there was no way back.
Full time | Reading 0-2 Middlesbrough
Reading: Mannone, McShane (c), Gunter, Ilori (Blackett 28), Moore, Van den Berg (Barrow 68), Kelly (Kermorgant 77), Swift, Beerens, Aluko, Smith.
Subs: Jaakkola, Edwards, Clement, Popa.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Leadbitter (Forshaw 75), Gibson, Christie, Braithwaite (Bamford 89), Ayala, Howson, Downing, Fabio, Tavernier (Johnson 62), Assombalonga.
Subs: Konstantopoulos, Friend, Traore, Fry.
Goals: Leadbitter 14 pen, Assombalonga 74
Att: 17,928 (1,913 away)