Middlesbrough draw blank at Reading

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.
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Middlesbrough’s Albert Adomah, George Friend, Adam Reach, Daniel Ayala and Patrick Bamford all missed excellent goalscoring chances as Boro squandered a golden opportunity in the promotion race.

There is no masking it – a 0-0 away draw at Reading may seem credible but a win was ideal and, given the day’s other results, crucial.

George Friend

George Friend

Boro missed their chance to make up ground.

Of course, they are only four points shy of leaders Bournemouth and, as Aitor Karanka pointed out afterwards, they are a point better off than they were last week.

But Derby’s win at Ipswich – a huge statement of intent from the Rams – and the Cherries’ loss at home to Norwich could prove to be a defining weekend in the Championship season.

Oh, what a Boro win would have done.

Karanka knows it, too: “I am disappointed because I think we have lost two points,” he rued.

The Spanish chief was also on point in his assessment as to why three points did not travel back to Teesside.

“We have created a lot of clear chances to score but again it is the same story – last Saturday against Barnsley, Blackburn at home and away, the keeper is the man of the match.

“We had five clear chances and the keeper was brilliant.

“I was happy with the work but we have to improve (scoring goals).”

Their nemesis at the Madejski Stadium was Australian stopper Adam Federici. Super-repellent, he was.

When Grant Leadbitter swung in an inch-perfect free-kick in the second half, Adomah rose and directed his downwards into the centre of the goal. Federici dived to his left but his fingertips reacted to prevent the Ghanaian.

Next he thwarted Bamford. The on-loan Chelsea ace let loose from over 25 yards.

His shot was hit with venom and accuracy. It flew towards the top right-hand corner. Until Federici intervened, spectacularly tipping the shot out for a corner.

The ensuing corner was when Friend was denied by the superb reactions from the keeper.

Danger still not over, Ayala should have scored but, like Reach in the first-half, he scooped the ball over the bar from two-yards out.

The set equation for promotion is to be consistent by winning your home games and drawing your away games.

But capitalisation is also required and, though effort cannot be questioned, Boro ultimately failed to do that against the Royals.

It was a frustrating game all round for Boro, in truth.

A turgid first-half brought on by the hosts’ rigid structure and closing down of space meant that Boro found it difficult to build fluid passages of play.

Bamford and strike partner Jelle Vossen were selected for their pace over Kike and Lee Tomlin, to cooperate better with Boro’s counter-attacking, but the punts from the midfield to get in behind the Reading defence rarely yielded opportunities.

The strike duo did, though, combine early on to tee up Reach who hit the side-netting, and later Bamford pirouetted from three players, passed into the feet of Adomah whose low drive across the box was met by Reach who skied from two yards.

Despite their attacking options, it wasn’t until the second-half that the Royals showed their attacking verve, Ayala and Ben Gibson dealing with the nuisance Simon Cox and limiting the impact of Pavel Pogrebnyak in the first-half.

The latter applied too much height to a header in the opening exchanges of the second 45, before Hal Robson-Kanu was prevented from a one-on-one with Dimi Konstantopoulos thanks to the timely slide tackle of Friend just as the dangerous attacker was about to shoot.

Michael Hector, susceptible in defence for the hosts, almost scored in a goalmouth scramble, as did Oliver Norwood, as the slow-paced memories of the first-half were replaced by a much more open and attacking second-half contest.

It was then when the sparring between Boro and Federici hit fever pitch. There was to be no getting past Steve Clarke’s chosen number one, however.

It is notable that Boro have scored the least goals (38) of the top seven teams, their impeccable defensive record (the league’s best) is the principle factor in them recording the third-best goal difference (+21).

Boro need to take their chances, both in front of goal and in the promotion race.