In their third season back in the Sky Bet Championship, Middlesbrough are right in the thick of the fight to avoid relegation to League One as the season nears its conclusion.
Although Boro sit in 18th in the standings, the bottom seven in the Championship table are separated by just four points in one of the most congested battles to avoid the drop in recent years.
The Royals secured mathematical safety in the Championship for another year by beating Charlton Athletic at the weekend, with Mark Bowen’s men keeping a third consecutive clean sheet in the process.
But Boro are not a team to count out, however. They overcame the Royals in the reverse fixture back in September, and the Wearsiders have shown themselves to be something of a bogey team for Reading in recent years - winning the last six meetings between the teams in a run stretching back to 2015.
With Middlesbrough’s season set for a potentially dramatic conclusion, here’s how they have made it to this point in 2019-20…
A tricky start at the Riverside
Starting the season under the management of former Middlesbrough and England defender, Jonathan Woodgate in his first job in the dugout, Boro began with nine points from their first seven games to set a stable base for the season ahead.
Having also suffered an early exit from the Carabao Cup after a penalty shootout defeat against League Two side, Crewe Alexandra, they were able to fully focus on the challenging league schedule.
Frustration for Britt Assombalonga as a chance goes begging in a 2-0 draw with Hull - a 10th straight winless game
Although they kept themselves out of the bottom three for the majority of the early exchanges this season, they were never quite able to put a solid run of form together. In fact, their victory over the Royals would eventually prove to be their last for more than two months.
Finding festive form before results turn again
Needing a change of fortunes after a 10-match winless streak, a battling 1-0 at home to Barnsley at the end of November boosted confidence around the Riverside, which helped to set up their best run of the season in the winter.
The 12 days over Christmas were Boro’s most profitable, earning wins over Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End before taking last season’s Champions League Finalists, Tottenham Hotspur, to a replay in the Emirates FA Cup.
Rudy Gestede turns in acrobatically against Preston, helping Boro to a fourth consecutive win on New Year's Day
Unfortunately, Boro’s win at Deepdale on New Year’s Day would be their last until the start of March, with their next 10 matches yielding just five points to leave them hovering in and around the relegation zone before lockdown halted football.
A familiar face takes to the dugout for final showdown
Coming out of lockdown, a 3-0 defeat against Swansea City in their first match upon football’s return signalled the end of Woodgate’s tenure as Middlesbrough manager - being swiftly replaced by Neil Warnock.
Neil Warnock stalks the touchline in his maiden match as Boro boss, away at Stoke
On his first match in charge, Warnock led Boro to a battling 2-0 win against fellow strugglers Stoke, but they are not out of trouble yet. Losses against Hull City and Queens Park Rangers were a difficult reminder of the demands of the Championship, heading into the final furlong of a unique season so far. In an upset to the form book, though, Boro took an unlikely 2-0 win away at Play-Off hopefuls Millwall to help their cause through goals from Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher last week.
Nonetheless, Middlesbrough will be coming to RG2 to give everything in the hope of returning northbound with three crucial points on Tuesday evening.
How they last lined up...
Middlesbrough: Stojanovic, Spence, Fry, Shotton (Roberts 66), Friend, Johnson, McNair (Coulson 77), Howson (Clayton 83), Saville (Wing HT), Fletcher (Tavernier 66), Assombalonga.
Unused subs: Pears, Dijksteel, Morrison, Nmecha.