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Match Reports

Report | Friend fires Boro to win against Royals

Defender strikes for visitors to defeat Reading

22 December 2018

George Friend struck for Middlesbrough in the second half at Madejski Stadium on Saturday, condemning Reading to a 1-0 defeat as we reach the halfway stage of the Championship season.

There wasn't a great deal between the teams for the majority of the match, but Friend's solitary strike deep in the second half gave Boro the victory on the day.

Caretaker boss, Scott Marshall handed a full senior debut to Gabriel Osho on Saturday - making him the 49th player to graduate from the Reading Academy. Omar Richards also returned, with four Academy products named in the starting line-up for the Royals.

Reading started at pace, with Danny Loader and Josh Sims putting in some neat interplay in the attacking third before Loader fed Sam Baldock in on goal. The Royals striker powered towards the bottom corner, but an outstretched leg from Darren Randolph denied him.

Boro grew into the game quite quickly, though, with the Play-Off chasers soon taking control of possession and looking to bypass the Reading midfield as often as they could with a direct approach.

A high header in the Reading defensive third allowed Boro to advance and loop over the top for Britt Assombalonga. He beat the offside trap and bore down on goal, but debutant Osho harried him all the way and put in a vital block.

The visitors had the ball in the net after a free-kick was bent into the box for Ryan Shotton to head in - but the centre-back was flagged offside and parity was maintained.

Reading continued to press on themselves, putting plenty of pressure on Boro around the half-hour mark, Tony Pulis' men found it difficult to get out of their own half at times, with the Royals picking off every loose ball, with the only thing eluding them being a goal.

Richards miscontrolled on the edge of the Boro box but the ball still made its way to Loader, whose effort bounced through the crowd but Randolph was able to hold on.

Boro were forced into an early change when Shotton withdrew injured towards the end of the first half. Paddy McNair, who scored from all of 30 yards at Madejski Stadium last season for Sunderland, was on in his place.

A Reading free-kick was taken short to Richards, who jinked his way left and shot through the crowd of players, forcing Randolph into a smart save down to his left. Baldock then picked up a pass in midfield and drove on at goal, his shot was deflected and made Randolph backpedal into an uncomfortable catch.

The Royals continued their pressure by playing around the edge of the box, with the ball finding its way to Andy Yiadom - but the full-back could only guide his first-time strike off target.

Despite Boro having a goal ruled out, a Reading starting line-up with an average age of 24 will have counted themselves unlucky to have not led into the interval.

Half-time | Reading 0-0 Middlesbrough

The early second-half sparring between the teams didn't yield many chances in the opening minutes of the second period, but the game was finely balanced nonetheless in RG2. 

Boro boast the best defensive record in the division, having only conceded 14 times in the 22 matches prior to Saturday's match. And when Loader slid through to Baldock once more, Aden Flint was able to track him all the way and intervene at the crucial moment to clear his lines.

Bacuna, pulling the strings in midfield alongside Andy Rinomhota, was able to swing in a corner to the near post onto the head of Josh Sims, but he could only divert over the bar.

A flurry of substitutions from the teams saw John Swift come on in place of Loader for the Royals, while Boro made a double change of their own, bringing on Jordan Hugill and Lewis Wing to try and turn the tide in their favour.

Reading had strong appeals of a penalty waved away by the referee, after a half-volley from Bacuna appeared to strike the arm of Daniel Ayala, but play carried on at Madejski Stadium.

Up the other end, substitute Wing acted instinctively to shoot from 25 yards out when offered half-a-yard of space. He struck it sweetly, with Jaakkola having to be on guard to punch clear.

But the breakthrough came with 13 minutes left, against the run of play. An overhit Boro cross bounced out to Jonny Howson on the right wing. He cut inside to McNair, taking two Royals out of commission and allowing McNair to cross for George Friend to fire into the open goal from eight yards.

Garath McCleary was soon introduced for the Royals with eight minutes remaining to try and salvage a point against the promotion chasers, with Jón Daði Böðvarsson also making a return to first-team action at Madejski Stadium.

But it was Boro who looked more likely to add a second, Friend latching on to a corner and rattling the crossbar before Reading could clear. The Royals broke quickly to the Boro box, with McCleary's strike from 18 yards ricocheting off a visiting shirt and prompting another big shout for handball from the Reading players - emphatically waved away by the referee.

Five minutes were added for Reading to try and force their way back level. Barrow and Bacuna played it between each other on the left, before the stand-in skipper powered a strike well clear of Randolph's crossbar.

Reading forced a corner, which was half-cleared and lofted back in to the path of Tyler Blackett deep in stoppage time, but the defender couldn't keep his shot down and the Royals were defeated by the visitors on the day.

Full-time | Reading 0-1 Middlesbrough

Reading: Jaakkola, Yiadom, Richards (Böðvarsson 85), Blackett, Osho, Bacuna (c), Rinomhota, Sims (McCleary 82), Barrow, Loader (Swift 70), Baldock.
Unused subs: Mannone, O'Shea, Edwards, McNulty.
Yellow: Rinomhota, Blackett

 Randolph, Friend, Shotton (McNair 38), Ayala, Flint, Saville, Besic (Wing 66), Clayton, Howson, Fry, Assombalonga (Hugill 67).
Unused subs: Lonergan, Batth, Braithwaite, Tavernier.
Yellow: Besic
Goals: Friend 77

Referee: Mr S Martin
Attendance: 14,943 (1,233 away)

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