Reading’s status as a Sky Bet Championship side was secured for another season on Saturday; a battling 2-1 defeat to promotion-hopefuls Middlesbrough was ultimately inconsequential as Rotherham United lost out to West Bromwich Albion. The bottom three no longer a possibility for José Gomes’ side – we’ll be in English football’s second tier in 2019-20.
A first senior goal for Danny Loader – and an absolute peach at that – had the Royals in an early lead. But the game was turned on its head before the break by a Lewis Wing strike and Britt Assombalonga’s penalty.
The Royals pushed for a leveller which never quite came. But the celebrations were all the same at the final whistle as news filtered around of the result from the Hawthorns – safety secured for Reading.
The Royals underwent a number of enforced changes ahead of the game – Yakou Méïté, Nélson Oliveira and Tyler Blackett were all missing after picking up injuries last time out against West Bromwich Albion, while Mo Barrow was missing through illness.
Consequently, Sam Baldock came in to start – his first start since facing Boro at Madejski Stadium before Christmas – as well as Loader, Garath McCleary and Chris Gunter all coming in.
The teams entered the field in a terrific atmosphere – the Royals supporters sending their inflatables bouncing around in the away end – and the match also got off to a lively start.
It was the hosts who came within a whisker of getting ahead in the early sparring, as Wing let fly from 20 yards – out the reach of Emi Martínez but bouncing back into play off the base of the post.
Instead, it was Reading who took the lead – a stunning goal too. Gunter took the throw high upfield; Loader rolled his marker and shimmied into space, before curling a perfect, unstoppable effort past Darren Randolph. A wonderful way to open a senior scoring account – a classy strike from the teenager.
Martínez produced a terrific, instinctive stop at his far post to deny George Saville from converting a cross, and then Baldock was almost gifted a route to goal when he closed down an Aden Flint clearance – their goalkeeper was alert to the situation and prevented the gap from widening.
Reading were playing some free-flowing stuff, much to the agitation of the Teesside supporters, but the hosts showed that they had firepower with another close call as Britt Assombalonga smashed against the woodwork as he latched onto a low cross from the right.
And shortly after the half-hour, Boro had their leveller. Jonny Howson sent in a teasing cross from the right – Andy Yiadom got to the ball first to deal with the initial danger, but Wing was the beneficiary as he picked up the loose ball and fired in.
The leveller served to give a new lease of life to the hosts, who could have gone ahead for the first time when Wing popped off another shot when the ball pinballed straight to him in the area - Martínez produced another good save.
But Reading would trail before the break; Assombalonga stuck in firmly from the spot. It was an inadvertant collision as Saville arrived on the blindside of Yiadom, but enough for the referee to signal a penalty.
Shortly before the break, Baldock received from Andy Rinomhota and swept into McCleary's path - the winger had options as he raced towards the box, but Saville's recovery challenge stopped the Royals from taking parity into the interval.
Half-time: Middlesbrough 2-1 Reading
90 seconds after the restart, Martínez added to his growing list of fabulous stops in a Reading kit when Mo Besic's curling effort was diverted by the head of Ashley Fletcher - the Argentine adjusted to save with an outstretched leg.
The Royals kept threatening with their pace on the break and when McCleary steamed through the middle, he was inches away from picking out the run of Baldock through the centre. Besic's recovery challenge was just in time.
And then McCleary was released through after strong, bullish play on half-way by Loader. A moment of indecision just allowed time for a block to come in.
Callum Harriott's introduction added some fresh dynamism to the Royals attack; before long he was involved in a move down the right that saw Yiadom's cross trapped by McCleary, but blocked in the box.
Then it was Rinomhota's turn to have an effort kept out by the sternest defence in the division; McCleary was released down the right by the goalkeeper and found the midfielder on the run. Gunter received in the box, played back to Rinomhota, but another firm defensive block.
Fresh legs came on for the final quarter of an hour in search of the equalising goal; Michael Olise and Josh Barrett both thrown into the fold. Before long Barrett had drawn a smart stop from Randolph after drifting in off the left flank.
And then he played in Yiadom on the overlap, who found Harriott in a crowded area - six yards out, he fashioned a backheel which deflected agonisingly wide off a defender.
Matt Miazga attacked a delivery and Ovie Ejaria was just about shunted out before he could convert a chance. Reading couldn't quite get a point from their trip to the Riverside, but it mattered not. The Royals are staying up!
Full-time: Middlesbrough 2-1 Reading
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton, Flint, Saville, Wing, Besic (Clayton 68), Mikel (c), Howson, McNair, Assombalonga (Hugill 86), Fletcher (Tavernier 80).
Unused subs: Konstantopoulos, Downing, Wood, Gestede.
Goals: Wing (31), Assombalonga (39 pen).
Reading: Martínez, Yiadom, Gunter (Olise 74), Miazga, Moore (c), Baker, Rinomhota, Ejaria, McCleary (McCleary 74), Loader, Baldock (Harriott 62).
Unused subs: Walker, Ezatolahi, Kelly, McIntyre.
Goal: Loader (11).
Referee: Mr J Brooks