MIDDLESBROUGH’S faint play-off hopes had already ended with a shock home defeat by Millwall.
And they completed a miserable Easter last night with an insipid performance at Reading who halted their dismal home run and reignited their promotion bid.
The Royals had not won at the Madejski Stadium since January, while an Easter mauling at Wigan had seen them slip down to ninth place in the Sky Bet Championship.
Adam Le Fondre’s strike and an own goal by George Friend, all in the first quarter of an hour, lifted Nigel Adkins’ side back into the sixth and final play-off spot with two games remaining.
Boro proved very accommodating guests, rarely trouble Reading who won too easily for Aitor Karanka’s liking.
“I am not happy with our attitude,” said the Spaniard.
“We have played two teams who wanted to win and there was one team who did not want to win, us.
“It is my fault – I did not know how to motivate them.”
Boro now finish with a home game against Danny Wilson’s Barnsley on Saturday and a trip to League One-bound Yeovil on Saturday, May 3.
And Karanka wants to sign off with six points out of six.
“I want to win the last two games,” he said.
“For this I need to choose the right players then motivate them to win.”
Reading, looking to bounce straight back to the Premier League, went ahead after just nine minutes when keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos could not to Jordan Obita’s left-wing cross cleanly.
Garath McCleary, at the far post, stabbed the ball back across goal from where Le Fondre bundled it over the line from a yard out.
It was the striker’s 14th goal of the season, and his first since he hit back-to-back home hat-tricks in January.
Danny Graham blew a good chance to equalise for Boro when he raced onto Luke Williams’ long ball only to lash his shot wide.
And moments later, with just 14 minutes on the clock, Reading doubled their advantage with Obita the architect again. This time the winger swung in a free-kick from the right which Boro defender Friend got his head to, only to inadvertently nod it beyond his own keeper.
Things could have got worse for shell-shocked Boro but Konstantopoulos saved well from Danny Williams and Sean Morrison headed narrowly over from a corner.
Boro, who up until the weekend harboured slim play-off ambitions themselves, tried to snatch a goal back before half-time but Emmanuel Ledesma was twice denied by Royals keeper Alex McCarthy from long range.
Injuries have hampered the Royals all season and they suffered yet more casualties when Hal Robson-Kanu departed with blood gushing from a mangled nose before Danny Guthrie, only just back after a spell in the treatment room, limped off.
Nevertheless, they could have extended their advantage after the break with Le Fondre heading too close to Konstantopoulos and substitute Pavel Pogrebnyak nodding Jobi McAnuff’s cross just too high.
With 15 minutes left Le Fondre went even closer with a header which came crashing back off the crossbar before Pogrebnyak was denied a fine solo goal by a superb fingertip save from Konstantopoulos.
By contrast Boro, whose already slim play-off hopes were ended at the weekend, played like they already have one foot on the beach - to the obvious annoyance of Karanka.
“One team was playing for the points, the other team was playing for nothing,” he said.
“If Reading had needed more goals they could have scored them.
“It’s difficult when you don’t play for points but it was my fault.”