A comprehensive view of Middlesbrough’s upcoming opposition so you can be in the know.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all image sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
Reading has become a Championship staple. The Berkshire side has spent all but 3 seasons in the English second division from 2004 to 2021. The three outliers in this trend, momentary stays in the Premier League (06-07, 07-08 and 12-13), show that the side is capable of breaching the Championship ceiling and entering the Premier League promise land. While passive onlookers have looked towards Paunovic’s side as a team with the potential to once again return to England’s top league. However, their advancement has been hindered by the departures of several key players. Crystal Palace has been prolific in raiding Reading in recent season with Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise, two of Reading’s most promising starlets, joining Patrick Viera’s outfit.
Despite these departures, Reading still has a strong squad and they were targeting promotion once more this season. These aspirations have been augmented by intelligent work within the transfer window too with Paunovic adding experience and talent without any expenditure on transfer fees.
Reading’s most recent form, two wins and a draw mean that they will come into the upcoming fixture high on confidence and expecting to continue their current stint of form.
Reading’s return of 10 points from 8 games has been built from 3 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats. The points that Reading have picked up to date also represent a mixed bag as an impressive win over Fulham last time out finds itself in the company of more expected results such as a win over newly-promoted Peterborough and middling Preston North End. The draw, a dramatic 3-3 came when the side hosted QPR, a team that only sit in a marginally better position than Middlesbrough’s opposition coming into the ninth round of fixtures. On the other hand, Reading’s unsuccessful outings, have largely come against highly performing sides: Huddersfield Town, Stoke City, Coventry City and Bristol City. This indicates that Reading is arguably a step behind the league favourites this season pinning them as underdogs for promotion despite strong seasons in recent times.
Hopes for promotion this season took another hit recently as news broke that Reading were going to be slammed with a points deduction. The punishment, a 6-9 points deduction, follows a breach of the Profit and Sustainability rules. This deduction would put the side in the relegation sone. This would force the team to rebuild their position in the league and it could be the end of their hopes for promotion this season.
Many complex psychological issues may arise in the players and coaching staff following this news and it may have an impact on the sides overall performance. However, Paunovic will recognise the pressing importance to get points on the board as a deflated team morale and poor early form could turn a promising Championship side into a side that has to battle bravely against relegation.
A large mitigating factor for Reading’s slow start to the season does come in their extensive injury list. Some players have recently returned to fitness and will be available to face Middlesbrough but a number of the sides most high profile performers remain on the treatment table. When these players return to the starting XI then it would not come as a great surprise to see them exacting revenge on the return fixtures of the previously mentioned defeats.
Reading is one of the most prolific sides in the league. The Royals have managed to find the net 15 times in 8 fixtures so far this season. This goal getting style of football had to lead to the side sitting 3rd place in goals per game so far this season. Interestingly, the other data would imply that Reading was a low scoring side. The side has managed to create just 9 big chances, 14th in the league, and they have managed to miss 2/3rds of these prominent opportunities. Equally, Reading has one of the lowest shots on target per game too initially indicating a lack of goalscoring opportunities. In actuality, Reading prefer to utilise pace and trickery on the counter-attack with the side struggling to break down teams. Paunovic’s side will not shoot on sight and instead resort to these shots when struggling to break down the opposition. This usually leads to fewer shots on target and big chances but once the ball is in these influential areas Reading are clinical in dispatching their shots.
If Reading has been relatively prolific going forward then they have been dreadful defensively. Only Peterborough has picked the ball out of their own net more frequently than Reading who have taken the restart 18 times so far this season. The leaky defence is a serious cause for concern for Reading as they have consistently lost through the opposition scoring +3 goals so far this season. On a more positive note, the mitigating circumstances are more prominent in this third of the pitch as the Royals have a limited foray of defenders to pick from. When these players return to full fitness then the side will look stronger defensively and the side will take a similar shape to the one that Championship fans have grown familiar with in recent seasons.
Top Goalscorer: John Swift (7)
Most Assists: John Swift (4)
Most Yellow Cards: Tom Dele-Bashiru, Josh Laurent, Michael Morrison (2)
Most Red Cards: N/A
One To Watch: John Swift
This will come as no surprise. John Swift has started this season in prolific form. The central midfielder has managed to find the net some 7 times in 8 performances while laying another 4 on for his teammates.
John Swift started his career at Chelsea. He would ultimately play at every youth level for the Premier League giants without playing for the first team. Instead Swift became one of Chelsea’s loan army travelling across the various levels of English football during the early stages of his career.
Rotherham United was the first side to take the player in adding him to the squad on a short-term loan. He would go on to make just four appearances for the club before returning to Chelsea’s under-21’s. A second short term loan followed in 2015 with the player joining Swindon Town from January until the end of the season. Nineteen appearances later Swift would return to Chelsea with some valid first-team experience and early signs of the goalscoring midfielder he would ultimately become. Impressed by his loan at Swindon Town, Brentford took the player on his first season-long loan. He would feature in 28 games during his last stint on loan. He would supply Brentford with a goalscoring threat from midfield too as he made 11 goal contributions during his stay at the club.
His contract at Chelsea was now coming to an end and Reading, impressed by what they had seen during his loan stints decided to take the player on a free transfer. This is arguably one of the best transfers in their history as the free agent would go on to become a vital first-team player. 172 games later and Swift is still at the Royals and he remains at the heart of everything the side does. The heart that makes the side tick and more often than not the lethal finish that turns the sides moves into goals. John Swift has scored 30 goals and supplied 29 assists for Reading. His current outstanding form indicates that he will add to that this season and by a considerable amount.
If Middlesbrough can halt Swift and prevent him from scoring, no mean feat, it would go a long way to adding all 3 points to the board for the Teessiders.
Hot Prospect: Ovie Ejaria
Reading has become renowned for its talented young wide players in recent seasons with Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise now play in the Premier League for Crystal Palace. Losing these players has left a considerable hole in the side but it has been successfully plugged by 23-year-old Ovie Ejaria.
Even at a very young age, Ejaria was seen as a serious talent as Liverpool poached the player from Arsenal’s youth academy in 2014. It is Liverpool’s system that would become the platform for his development as he would be sent on loan from Merseyside with the prospective possibility of breaking into the first team should he impress in the lower divisions.
His first loan saw him join Sunderland for the back half of the season. Ejaria would go on to make 11 appearances for the Wearside team but he struggled to make a serious impact as he only managed to find the net on one occasion. However, as his first step into professional football, his time at Sunderland can be considered a tempered success.
Intrigued by the winger, Rangers would follow. He would make 28 appearances during his time in Scotland supplying 2 goals and an assist.
During this period he also made a few appearances for Liverpool in the FA and EFL Cups. These appearances were vital in drawing more attention to the player and providing the player with a plethora of options in regards to the club he joined.
A loan to Reading followed with the player finishing the season in the Championship. He would impress the Reading faithful during his short term with the Royals as he scored one goal and provided two assists in 16 league fixtures. The club jumped at the chance for him to return to the club and a season-long loan following the following year. He would make 36 appearances for the club during this stint and he would score 3 goals and provide 5 assists as he developed into a serious threat from the flank. In 2020, Reading agreed to a £3.51m fee with Liverpool to bring the player to Reading permanently. The player has since remained at the club and continued to perform for the Royals.
Ejaria has made a considerable start this season supplying 2 assists in 3 games. If he can continue in this vein then he will prove to be a great success this season and he will put up markedly better figures than his recent, still very solid, output.
Manager: Veljko Paunovic
A midfielder and striker by trade, Paunovic had an interesting career spanning across 5 countries and 12 clubs. He would go on to make some 358 appearances at club level scoring 76 goals. He would also go on to make 2 appearances at the international level for Serbia and Herzegovina scoring 1 goal.
Following his retirement, Paunovic earned his coaching badges and took up a coaching role in the Serbian International development sides. He started and was impressed as manager of the under-18’s before a temporary promotion to the under-19’s. His final role in the Serbian FA would be in control of the under-20s. He would stay in this job for just over a year managing an impressive points return of 2.45 points per game across 11 fixtures.
His successes within the Serbian international youth teams brought the interest of Chicago Fire. The USA based side was looking for a talented but raw and known coach and settled on Paunovic as the man to lead them forward. He would go on to impress in Chicago and he would lead the team into 149 fixtures during his four-year stint in the states.
His relative success brought the interest in Reading. The Championship side brought him to the club in August 2020 and he has managed 57 matches to date with a very solid 1.4 points per game return. His current contract is expected to run out in 2022 but breaking the Championship ceiling in the meantime would result in the manager getting an extension to his contract.
Prediction: Reading 2-3 Middlesbrough
Despite Middlesbrough’s slow dripping goalscoring faucet, this should be a high scoring match. Reading’s prolific performances going forwards but their leaky defence should make that an inevitability. Instead, Middlesbrough needs to get on the right side of the high scoreline.