Goalscorers: Stewart Downing 11, Yakubu 21, Dave Kitson 43, Steve Sidwell 44, Leroy Lita 55
Reading: Marcus Hahnemann, Ivar Ingimarsson, Graeme Murty, Ibrahima Sonko, Nicky Shorey, Bobby Convey (Brynjar Gunnarsson 84), James Harper, Steve Sidwell, Seol Ki-Hyeon (Stephen Hunt 84), Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson (Leroy Lita 45)
Middlesbrough: Mark Schwarzer, Stuart Parnaby, Emanuel Pogatetz, Chris Riggott, Julio Arca (Andrew Davies 45), George Boateng, Stewart Downing, James Morrison (Adam Johnson 84), Fabio Rochemback (Gaizka Mendieta 68), Mark Viduka, Yakubu
Referee: Mark Halsey, Attendance: 23,802
This was Reading’s Premier League debut season after enjoying a record-breaking promotion to the top-flight, finishing with 106 points, winning the Championship which included a 33-match unbeaten run. Steve Coppell’s side set the tone for their brilliant maiden campaign in the Premier League with this thrilling comeback against Middlesbrough on the opening day of the 2006-2007 season.
Boro were under new management after Steve McClaren had left to take over as manager of the England national team. He had been replaced by former player Gareth Southgate, who retired from playing duty to embark on his first job in management. In the first 20 minutes, it was the more experienced outfit that showed their class to establish a two-goal advantage.
Yakubu got too much time to deliver a super cross to the back post and Stewart Downing produced a fine side-footed volley past Marcus Hahnemann to give the visitors the lead in the 11th minute. 10 minutes later, rookie manager Southgate could enjoy a 2-0 lead. Hahnemann spilled a Fabio Rochemback free-kick into the path of Yakubu who made no mistake to punish the error from the American goalkeeper.
Reading’s 22-match unbeaten home record was firmly on the line but despite trailing 2-0, they were still playing well. Mark Schwarzer was at full stretch to palm away Nicky Shorey’s free-kick and two minutes before the interval, the Royals got a goal back which they fully deserved for the balance of the play they had been producing. Seol Ki-Hyeon got past Julio Arca and drilled a cross into the near post area. A deflection off a Boro defender allowed Dave Kitson to tap home.
Just over a minute later, Middlesbrough’s lead had been fully wiped out. Ivar Ingimarsson picked out Steve Sidwell and he found Schwarzer’s far corner to pull Reading onto level terms. His excitement was palpable, racing into the supporters to celebrate which got him a booking and a stiff telling off from referee Mark Halsey.
10 minutes into the second half, the Premier League newcomers had their first-ever lead at this level. Seol Ki-Hyeon played a crucial role again, driving another ball into the six-yard box. Andrew Davies and Schwarzer got in each other’s way and with no decisive action taken by either of them, half-time substitute Leroy Lita pounced to score what ultimately turned out to be the matchwinner.
It was an awesome beginning to Premier League life for Reading and a tough early management lesson for Southgate who could only watch on as his side crumbled under the pressure of the beating Berkshire sunshine and vocal home support. Reading finished in eighth position and just one place off European qualification whilst Boro finished 12th in Southgate’s debut management season.