February 25, 2007
Revenge for sharp Boro
Middlesbro 2 Reading 1: Boro's front pair outclass Reading and build confidence ahead of their forthcoming FA Cup clash Pete Oliver at Riverside stadium
BY THEIR own admission, the catalyst for Reading�s remarkable first season of top-flight football came from their opening day comeback against Middlesbrough, when they recovered from conceding two early goals to propel themselves on a journey which may yet end in Europe. Sweet revenge then for Boro, who ended Reading�s four-game winning streak in the Premiership and edge nearer the top half of the table.
John Oster�s late strike, following on from goals in each half from Middlesbrough�s inform pair of Mark Viduka and Yakubu, doubtless stirred painful memories for Gareth Southgate�s team. But on this occasion time was on their side and in seeing out victory they continued their own impressive revival.
Boro have lost just once since the turn of the year to keep their season alive on two fronts with an FA Cup replay to come at West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday night. Victory there will see them face Reading again in the quarter-finals if Steve Coppell�s side can overcome Manchester United. Although he is likely to select a completely different lineup for that sold-out tie, Coppell had warned of the dangers of being distracted and for 45 minutes his fears were well founded as Middlesbrough stole a decisive march.
Boro�s greatest strength is rightly perceived as their attacking threat of yesterday�s goalscorers allied to Stewart Downing, yet it is their two central defenders, Emanuel Pogatetz and Jonathan Woodgate, who currently lead the way as their supporters� choice for the player-of-the-year award. Of all the players Southgate may want to bring to Teesside over the coming summer it is certain Woodgate, still on loan with his hometown club from Real Madrid, will top that list. The England international brings a classy dimension to Boro�s backline and his first major contribution was on a par with Viduka�s in allowing his side to take an early lead. Shane Long was bearing down on goal and preparing to face only goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer when Woodgate made up lost ground and made a superb tackle to snuff out the danger.
Within five minutes Middlesbrough were ahead thanks to Viduka, who backheeled the ball over the line from close-range after Pogatetz had headed down a free kick from Downing to give him his eighth goal in 10 matches. While Reading struggled to impose themselves on the game, Viduka was a constant presence, and as he challenged Royals� debutant Michael Duberry, a touch off the defender had Marcus Hahnemann fumbling to tip the ball over his goal. The Reading goalkeeper was almost embarrassed again after 30 minutes but fortunately for him Lee Cattermole�s misdirected cross stayed high enough to hit the crossbar.
A half-chance for Long, which he scuffed wide, was all Reading could muster in reply, but such was Boro�s first-half dominance they must have been disappointed to register only another Downing free kick, which Hahnemann saw early enough to get across to catch, as a further meaningful effort on target. Conscious of the need to improve, Reading raised their game after half-time, with leading scorer Leroy Lita a factor. His elusive running stretched Middlesbrough�s defence but his finishing was awry, failing to make the most of a chance created by Stephen Hunt and the influential Glenn Little. Long went closer when an excellent run forward by Nicky Shorey allowed the striker a shot which may well have beaten Schwarzer had Pogatetz not got his body in the way. Proof the Irishman was out of luck came moments later when a powerful surge through the middle ended with a scooped shot that skidded off the top of the bar.
However, the downside of chasing the game was always apparent as Boro, whose game is well suited to playing on the break, were able to exploit Reading�s need to push men forward. Yakubu might have ended Reading�s resistance earlier but for a smothering save by Hahnemann following good work by George Boateng and Viduka. But when he did find the net with a little more than 20 minutes to go, it was with a killer blow delivered in the most ruthless fashion. Again Viduka was the provider, and although Yakubu still had plenty to do with a defender for company and the angle of his run taking him away from goal, one blur of the left foot gave Hahnemann no chance as a thundering shot into the top corner gave the Nigerian his 16th goal of the season.
Star man: Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough) Scorers: Middlesbrough: Viduka 7, Yakubu 69 Reading: Oster 87 Referee: M Halsey Attendance: 26,412 Middlesbrough: Schwarzer 6, Davies 6, Taylor 6, Woodgate 7, Pogatetz 6, Cattermole 6 (Morrison 74min), Boateng 7, Arca 7, Downing 8, Viduka 8, Yakubu 8 (Lee 85min) Reading: Hahnemann 6, Murty 6, Duberry 6, Ingimarsson 6, Shorey 8, Hunt 6 (Oster 72min), Sidwell 6, Harper 6, Little 7, Long 7 (Kitson 62min), Lita 6