|Pos. 14th (56 pts)||TUESDAY 14 JULY 2020||Pos. 17th (50 pts)|
SHOTS (on target)
The heart-warming news for Boro fans was that since the Covid break, Reading had yet to win at the Madejski Stadium drawing twice against Stoke City and Huddersfield then losing to Brentford. Further to that Reading had only won 1 of their last 12 home games so what could possibly go wrong for us then?
Mark Bowen’s Reading side are relatively safe in the middling part of the table, too good to go down but nowhere near good enough for the Play-Offs. With only three games left to finish the season Boro perhaps had hopes that motivation levels may not be very high with their hosts in Berkshire this evening. Under Warnock, away performances from Boro had been more productive than their home ones so maybe that was an omen we could cling to as we desperately needed the three points to ease worries of the drop.
For the Royals, it looked like Andy Yiadom, Pele, and Lucas Joao would all miss out through injury. Mark Bowen was also sweating on whether Charlie Adam and Ayub Masika would be fit tonight after both had missed Saturday’s game. Boro’s main concern was Djed Spence who started Saturday with an ill-fitting face mask but was largely anonymous by his own standards after he disposed of it just ten minutes into the game.
The Boro team was an interesting one with four changes. Out went Britt, Shotton, Stojanovic, and McNair and in came Dijksteel presumably as one of the three CB’s, Tav along with Roberts and Pears in for Stojanovic. Shotton apparently was injured and we found out just before the match that he will play no further part in the season while Morrison apparently wasn’t feeling too well and didn’t make the trip. Have to admit that a little thought did go through my head that Warnock now wanted fighters who were going to leave their last breath and stretched sinew out on the pitch.
The line up at Kick-off looked like a back four rather than a 3 or 5 for Boro with Roberts upfront with Fletcher. George Friend was quickly into action as he was bundled into the hoardings for a first minute Reading corner. A second one quickly followed Fletcher’s headed clearance and as the danger built Liam Moore scuffed his shot to Boro’s relief.
A long Pears clearance saw the ball bounce in the Reading box but nobody in a red shirt could get control of it. A slick passing movement between Roberts and Johnson saw a cross cleared by the Royals defence with 5 minutes now gone and both sides probing. Howson got a foot in to block off Swift conceding a corner which came to Puscas but Spence and Saville got a block in. As Boro cleared their lines Puscas responded by giving away a silly free-kick on 9 minutes but Boro were happy to accept it.
Meite was giving Friend a good work out and certainly not afraid to use his upper body strength in keeping George on his toes. The opening 15 minutes hadn’t been really testing for Boro despite Reading having a few corners but we definitely needed to start building some momentum soon otherwise we could have found ourselves on the back foot for the rest of the game.
Swift was in the wars again after a few seemingly innocuous challenges left him with what looked like a twisted ankle but he was able to resume. Puscas then earned the first yellow card of the game for a headless scything foul on Howson which gave some early indication of how volatile he was and that maybe Boro could take advantage of it.
On 21 minutes Boro earned their first corner after Spence sent in a low cross which was put out by Morrison. The corner came out to Spence on the edge of the box but he slipped after mistiming his shot but Ref Andy Woolmer adjudged him to have been fouled. Looked soft to me but happy to get the rub of the green that Warnock keeps mentioning. Tav took the free-kick but it sailed well over Rafael’s crossbar allowing the first drinks break of the evening on 23 minutes.
A Fletcher effort gave hope for Boro’s virtual Travelling Army as Boro came out from the drinks break looking the better side and enjoying a spell of possession. Saville received a blow to his face and was left stunned afterwards looking like he needed some smelling salts to clear his head. On 32 minutes from the corner restart with Saville still dazed and off the pitch, Moore bundled the ball into the net to put the home side ahead in yet another poor example of Boro defending. Oh dear this wasn’t the game we had played out in our hearts!
Spence played in Roberts almost immediately after the restart but he hit his side-footed shot too casually not troubling Rafael at all. A few minutes later Spence was involved again this time with a header but he fluffed his lines across an open goal after glorious Tav ball. Maybe his broken nose was playing on his mind when he went to head but that was a gift to get Boro back into this game.
Johnson whipped in a great cross which caused Morrison to get down and head it out for a Boro corner on 40 minutes. From the corner, Reading broke with Moore with only Dijksteel alert to the danger. Olise then claimed for a Penalty as the ball, came down the Boro end and again Dijksteel was called to action with Pears in assistance. Seconds later Swift hit a long-range power drive off the upright as the game was end to end but Boro looking open at the back as 42 minutes passed by.
At the perfect time, a Roberts cross was met by Fletcher who flicked it off his head deflecting it past Rafael to pull the scores level just before the interval. Meantime we were hearing that Wigan had put seven goals past Hull and that match hadn’t reached half time yet. What a welcome bit of news that would be for the Boro dressing room. Just before the end of the half Roberts set up Spence but his shot was blocked as Boro now looked to be regaining their confidence after that Fletcher equaliser. Just in case we thought it was over Johnson had to head clear a Royals cross as the half time whistle sounded which importantly kept the scores level.
No changes for either side at half time. Meite was immediately barging through George Friend again who was forced to foul him by dragging him down near the corner flag. The free-kick came in and looked to deflect off Spence but Andy Woolmer awarded a goal kick to Boro which we were happy to take much to the annoyance of several blue and white hooped shirts. Meite then barged through Johnson by literally pushing him over conceding a Boro a free-kick. Boro’s first corner of the half saw Dijksteel getting up for Boro but the flag went up for an offside.
Fletcher went down in the box with the close attention of Blackett and Rafael trying to get to and cross a ball from Tavernier but Woolmer was having none of it. Tav earned himself a talking to after a “trip” in the middle of the park. It was Reading up next, putting a cross into Meite who was continually influencing things as he powered to meet another cross running in on Fry but his effort was off target. That was a warning for Boro as this huge frame of a Striker was determined to make his mark. 55 minutes in and a scrappy bit of loose play from Saville allowed Reading another opportunity; Pears was quick to scream words of advice to his defenders and midfielders to wake up to the dangers of being too relaxed.
Reading worryingly now seemingly had a grip of the game, starting to pass the ball around making Boro work for it but so long as it stayed away from Pears then we were happy enough. Boro we hoped were deliberately sitting deep hoping to spring Tav or Roberts. Rinomohta picked up a yellow card on 58 minutes for a pullback on Tavernier whose influence was growing. On 60 minutes Johnson put a teasing cross into the Reading 6-yard box that was deflected up for Rafael to collect.
Meite let a wayward rocket fly from outside the box on 62 minutes as Pears scrambled to get down, that man was still lurking and looking dangerous. Boro then worked the ball down the middle of the pitch with some good inter-passing eventually out to Johnson putting another cross in but it went out for a goal kick. Fatigue looked to be setting in but more so with Boro.
Fletcher got a powerful shot off palmed away by Rafael after being played in by Tav on 65 minutes. Incredibly Tav had been in the LB spot tracking back, he hooked the ball away from his opponent, broke down the left touchline beating two Royals defenders before putting the telling ball in towards Fletcher. He must be first on Warnock’s teamsheet after this.
A drinks break was a welcome relief for Boro just after a Reading corner had gone out for a goal kick. Muscles were being rubbed on some tired legs and aching limbs as we neared 70 minutes. Reading then brought Olise off for Masika to freshen their attack. A break after a 50/50 between Moore and Saville allowed Britt to com on for Fletcher, entering the pitch with what looked like very verbal and direct instruction from Warnock ringing in his ears.
Britt had a half-chance on 75 minutes trying to turn his man but wasn’t strong enough. Tav picked out a great ball to the right-wing finding Roberts who cut inside through the Royals defence and then hit it straight at Rafael. He did all the hard work and then choked at the vital moment. Britt could have gone down in the box but stayed on his feet, hit a cross that was cleared but only so far and next up was George Friend who typically blasted it wide after he stole it from Tav heading in the opposite direction.
Boro were building up a head of steam and on 81 minutes Roberts made amends by cracking it into the bottom corner to put Boro 2-1 up. A great run by Spence and Tavernier on the edge of the 18-yard box found Johnson who crossed, it was left by Saville on the penalty spot for Roberts behind to slot home.
Reading made a couple of Substitutions in response. For Boro, Dijksteel who had had a very solid and credible game then came off for McNair. The lad was understandably cream-crackered after his injury lay off with Boro now switching to three CB’s.
Morrison nearly went close for Reading but Friend kept his nerve, kept jostling at close range and when the effort came it was weak and easily smothered by Pears. Coulson was next to come on at the 88-minute mark for goal scorer Roberts who took his time departing the pitch. Five very long agonising minutes of additional time came up on the 4th Officials board.
George headed a low ball back to Pears to ease danger and eat up some vital seconds. Fry and Friend won a heading duel on the halfway line then McNair had to be cold and calm to clear with 2 minutes now gone of that interminable added time. Tav tried to break out after reading the ball and intercepting but he just couldn’t quite keep it in play. Tense times, nails bitten, buttocks clenched. Reading then came close with Masika but it went well over allowing Pears to take his time to collect the ball for a leisurely goal kick and all three points were Boro’s!
MOM was Tavernier but there were gritty performances from all of them. The defence, scrapped and battled, Dijksteel as mentioned had done very well, Friend and Fry were strong, Johnson worked his socks off, Spence was markedly better than against QPR and getting back to himself, Saville was almost Grant like in getting stuck in with Howson alongside his usual self, Fletcher ran and Roberts teased but Tav was instrumental throughout the entire game and made the difference when and where it counted.