Reading FC fans will be demanding a reaction when their team travels to Middlesbrough on Saturday (3PM Kick-Off) for the culmination of a supremely challenging week.

Last weekend the Royals were dumped out of the FA Cup by sixth-tier Kidderminster Harriers before following that up with a 0-7 drubbing by Fulham on Tuesday night.

The future of manager Veljko Paunovic remains uncertain with the vast majority of fans making it clear they want the Serbian sacked. But as of now, he is still in charge of this Reading team.

Team News

Reading's deep injury crisis just got worse against Fulham as Scott Dann limped off with a muscular issue in the seventh minute. The severity of Dann's injury is still being assessed but he is expected to miss some time.

Reading Chronicle: Scott Dann limps off the pitch against Fulham. Image by: JasonPIXScott Dann limps off the pitch against Fulham. Image by: JasonPIX

In addition, Alen Halilovic and Felipe Arauna - both injured at Kidderminster - are likely to remain sidelined while long-term absentees Yakou Meite, Tom McIntyre, and Michael Morrison will miss out. 

There is hope that star striker Lucas Joao will be back at some point in January but it is unclear when that will be. Full-backs Andy Yiadom and Baba Rahman are away with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations, leaving Paunovic to call on Dejan Tetek and 20-year old Ethan Bristow for Tuesday night's defeat to Fulham.

The status of disappeared duo Ovie Ejaria and Liam Moore remains murky at best with Paunovic stating that he expected Ejaria back from a "soft-tissue" injury this month. No more specific timeline has been given while the details of Moore's absence are thus far unknown.

Reading Chronicle: Ovie Ejaria last played for Reading against Sheffield United in November. Image by: JasonPIXOvie Ejaria last played for Reading against Sheffield United in November. Image by: JasonPIX

Middlesbrough meanwhile, are still dealing with the effects of a Covid outbreak that saw them last play in the league on December 29th. They did, however, return to action in the FA Cup, beating Mansfield 3-2 with a last-gasp winner.

New signing Folarin Balogun, who joined on loan from Arsenal this week, should be available for selection. Midfielder James Lea Siliki is away at AFCON with Cameroon but Middlesbrough are expected to have no serious injuries to worry about.

Form Guide

Bad would be an understatement when looking at Reading's recent form. The humbling defeats to Kidderminster and Fulham made it just two wins from the Royals' last 13 matches and no wins in their last five.

Reading Chronicle: Luke Southwood reacts to yet another Fulham goal. Image by: JasonPIXLuke Southwood reacts to yet another Fulham goal. Image by: JasonPIX

On a positive note, both of those victories came away from home so perhaps the trip to the Riverside will prove the perfect tonic for Paunovic's team. 

Last Five: LLDLD

While Reading appear to be on a downward slide over the past couple of months, Middlesbrough are on the ascendancy. A tough start to the season saw manager Neil Warnock replaced by Chris Wilder and the effect has been significant. 

Since Wilder's appointment on November 7th, Middlesbrough have lost just one out of nine games, winning six of them. The run includes five wins in their last six Championship fixtures - conceding just two goals in that period. Wilder's arrival and the good form that followed has boosted Boro up to 7th, one point outside of the playoff spots.

Last Five: WWWWD

Opposition Danger Man: Folarin Balogun

Middlesbrough's defensive record has been nothing short of rock-solid this season, conceding a total of just 24 goals, fourth-best in the division. But they've been far less effective in front of goal. 

Sitting joint-tenth on goals scored, Middlesbrough's top scorer, Andraz Sporar, has found the net just six times in the league this term. This brings us to Wilder's newest recruit Folarin Balogun.

Reading Chronicle: Balogun scoring for Arsenal in the Europa League. Image by: PABalogun scoring for Arsenal in the Europa League. Image by: PA

The Arsenal forward has made only two Premier League appearances for the Gunners but what he lacks in experience he more than makes up for in terms of talent and expectation.

Frequently compared to Ian Wright, Balogun is considered one of the next great hopes to come out of Arsenal's Hale End academy but will now need to prove himself in the professional game.

Last Time Out: Reading 1-0 Middlesbrough, September 25th 2021

Despite injuries meaning that Reading had no fit centre-backs to choose from, they put in one of their most impressive performances of the season against Boro in September en-route to a 1-0 victory.

Alen Halilovic’s deflected 55th minute strike was enough to claim all three points, Reading’s third victory on the spin. While it may feel like a long time ago now, Paunovic’s side showed real character, grit, and determination to beat their northern foes on that sunny autumn afternoon.

Reading Chronicle: Alen Halilovic celebrates his winner against Middlesbrough. Image by: JasonPIXAlen Halilovic celebrates his winner against Middlesbrough. Image by: JasonPIX

Boro also saw Matt Crooks sent off late on for a sliding challenge on Luke Southwood as the visitors to the SCL endured a supremely frustrating day against Reading’s impressive rearguard.

Predicted Reading XI

(4-3-3) Luke Southwood; Dejan Tetek, Tom Holmes, Josh Laurent, Ethan Bristow; Danny Drinkwater, Andy Rinomhota, John Swift; Tom Dele-Bashiru, Junior Hoilett, Andy Carroll

Further injuries means that under-fire Paunovic is running out of options. In goal, Luke Southwood - one of the few to emerge from Fulham’s huge win with any credit at all - will keep his place while Reading will likely stick with Dejan Tetek and Ethan Bristow at full-back.

Tom Holmes will almost certainly take one of the centre-back roles but who will start alongside him is up in the air. Should Liam Moore be fit and available it is certainly possible the club captain returns, otherwise it will likely be midfielder Josh Laurent deputising in defence once again.

Reading Chronicle: Josh Laurent and Tom Holmes are likely to start at centre-back. Image by: JasonPIXJosh Laurent and Tom Holmes are likely to start at centre-back. Image by: JasonPIX

In midfield it seems probable that Paunovic will stick with Danny Drinkwater while Laurent’s potential move to centre-back means Reading will need to find someone to field next to him. After recently returning to fitness, Andy Rinomhota could be the choice. John Swift is a near-certainty to start in front of the more defensive duo.

Moving forward Tom Dele-Bashiru and Junior Hoilett will likely flank Andy Carroll although the impressive Mamadi Camara made his case for more minutes in the first half of Tuesday’s defeat.

How to Watch

Being a 3PM kick-off, those in the UK won’t be able to watch this fixture on TV.