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Middlesbrough win boosts play-off hopes

With just 15 games left to play, Middlesbrough’s victory over Reading reduced the gap between them and the play-offs from six points to four points. Play-off rivals Fulham, Preston and Bristol City all dropped points, and this meant Middlesbrough’s win was needed to keep tabs on the top six.

Adama Traore’s brace secured Middlesbrough’s first home win under Tony Pulis. Boro triumphed 2-1 against the Royals, with Chris Martin giving Reading a glimmer of hope towards the end of the game.

The first-half was dominated by Middlesbrough. Stewart Downing flashed a volley just wide of the post mid-way through the opening exchanges, and possibly could have done better with the effort.

The game’s opening goal started with some good work from Jonny Howson in midfield. The former Norwich City man beat two men in the centre-circle before releasing the ball to Downing.

Traore was given the opportunity to run at the defence soon after, and cut in onto his left foot and hit a powerful shot towards goal. Vito Mannone in the Reading goal will have thought he should have done better, as the Italian palmed the ball up into the net.

The first goal came just before half-time, and Traore’s second arrived just after the interval. The wide-man took the ball down from a poor header from Reading’s Leandro Bacuna, and ran at the defence once more.

Centre-back Liam Moore half-expected Traore to cut back in onto his left-foot as he had for the first goal, but he knocked the ball onto his right and smashed a shot into the far-post. There was nothing the ‘keeper could do about this one.

Later in the second half, Boro could have extended their advantage to three. A clever free-kick resulted in a snap-shot from Grant Leadbitter, but the Middlesbrough captain struck the post with his effort.

Jaap Stam’s side may have felt the comeback was on with just over 10 minutes to play. Chris Martin’s angled shot from the edge of the box following a short corner caught out the home side, and it found the bottom corner to give Reading hope.

Britt Assombalonga was given the opportunity to secure all three points in the last five minutes, after Traore had been fowled in the box. Penalties are usually the duty of Leadbitter, who has a superb record from the spot, but Assombalonga is without a goal in eight, and so was trusted to make the score 3-1.

However, Assombalonga’s stuttered run up didn’t have the desired effect as he hit the ball over the bar to make for a nervy last five minutes at the Riverside.

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