PRESSURE piled on Reading FC boss Jaap Stam after his side crashed to a lacklustre 2-0 defeat against Garry Monk’s struggling Middlesbrough at Madejski Stadium.

A first-half penalty from Grant Leadbitter followed by a fine header from Britt Assombaloga saw a confidence-bereft Reading slip to yet another defeat.

The result saw Reading rooted to 20th place in the Championship table, a stark contrast from last season’s third-placed finish and just two points above the relegation zone.

Stam handed a full league debut to young striker Sam Smith while Yann Kermorgant returned to the matchday squad for the first time since the play-off final.

Meanwhile Paul McShane, Liam Kelly and John Swift also returned to the starting line-up while Adrian Popa made the bench after impressing for the Under 23s on Monday night.

Royals’ high-intensity start forced an early corner when Liam Kelly’s cross was deflected out of play. Sone Aluko’s delicate delivery flashed across the face of goal but there was nobody on the receiving end.

Reading saw plenty of the ball in the opening 10 minutes with some slick passing moves but could not quite create a clear-cut opening.

John Swift then needlessly gave the ball away and allowed Boro’s Stuart Downing to charge along the right touchline.

The former England international’s cross found Martin Braithwaite inside the box but the header went over the bar.

But Royals’ fine start soon crumbled when Joey van den Berg body-checked Britt Assombalonga inside the box. Referee Oliver Langford made no hesitation as he pointed to the spot and Grant Leadbitter blasted the visitors in front.

Reading were then forced into an early change following a nasty collision between Tiago Ilori and Liam Moore. The former had to be stretchered off the pitch before being rushed to hospital and replaced by Tyler Blackett.

Royals had to make do with 10 men for the following five minutes as Moore received treatment but Boro failed to capitalise on the advantage.

In fact, Royals nearly pulled level when Chris Gunter’s early delivery fell just inches short of the on-rushing Smith at the near post.

With 35 minutes on the clock there was another break in play, this time for two Boro players who went down after a clash of heads. The break also saw a heavily-bandaged Moore return to the field after a 10-minute absence.

Gunter then went on a lung-busting charge down the right hand side and found Smith in the middle. The 19-year-old frontman climbed highest to get his head on the ball but his glancing effort drifted wide of Darren Randolph’s goal.

The visitors continued to pile on the pressure deep into seven added minutes at the end of the first-half and Royals looked unable to cope with Garry Monk’s side.

Royals had a fine chance to break from a Boro corner but Kelly’s poor pass towards Roy Beerens – who would have been clean through on goal - was easily intercepted.

Stam’s men were quick out of the blocks in the second-half and could have equalised with 47 minutes played.

Smith used his strength to shrug off a defender before unleashing a fierce shot at goal. Randolph spilled Smith’s effort and the ball landed at the feet of Beerens, who was flagged offside.

Royals struggled to gain any momentum for the following 10 minutes and Stam would have been bitterly disappointed with his team’s passing display.

Smith had an appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Langford after Kelly squared the ball to the 19-year-old inside the box. Stam then threw on the pacey Mo Barrow after 65 minutes in a bid to inject more urgency into Royals’ play.

Reading continued to probe but Boro’s defence looked almost impenetrable . John Swift had a tame shot on goal but it was easily saved by Randolph.

And it was soon 2-0 to the hosts when Blackett lost Howson on the flank. The midfielder’s cross was perfectly placed for Assombalonga to double Boro’s lead and heap more pressure on Stam.

The Dutchman threw on the fit-again Kermorgant with 13 minutes remaining as a final throw of the dice to secure something from the game.

But Royals could have 3-0 down had it not been for Gunter’s instinctive reaction to clear a goal-bound header off the line.

Vito Mannone was then called into action to deny Johnson as Reading continued to struggle with Boro’s constant pressure.

Kermorgant thought he had restored a bit of faith when the ball fell kindly inside the box following a corner. However, the Frenchman’s strike sailed well high of Randolph’s crossbar.

Reading looked totally bereft of confidence throughout the final minutes and failed to create a single clear-cut opportunity as Boro held firm to take all three points.

Reading FC: Mannone, Gunter, Van den Berg (Barrow, 68), McShane, Moore, Ilori (Blackett), Beerens, Swift, Aluko, Kelly (Kermorgant, 76), Smith.

Subs not used: Edwards, Clement, Popa, Jaakola.

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Leadbitter, Gibson, Downing. Christie, Braithwaite, Ayala, Howson, Fabio, Tavernier (Johnson,61), Assombalonga.

Subs not used: Konstantopoulous, Friend, Bamford, Traore, Forshaw, Fry.

Bookings: McShane (45), Assombalonga (48), Referee: Oliver Langford.

Attendance: 17,928 (1,913 away).