AS the curtain came down on another season at the Riverside Stadium, the players were applauded by the fans as they trudged around on a lap of appreciation, nothing more. Targets have not been achieved this season.

While Norwich City and Sheffield United celebrate finishing in the Championship’s automatic promotion places, where Boro had wanted to finish, Tony Pulis and his players will head into the final Sunday of the campaign needing favours just to claim a play-off spot.

For whatever reason Middlesbrough have not been good enough in the final third to have stayed in the hunt for a top two spot, and the only thing the players can hope for now is that three wins from their last four matches has given them the confidence to get the result required at Rotherham on Sunday – and hope Derby County slip up, twice.

Boro did what they had to do on Saturday against Reading, just. And having had their problems in front of goal for the majority of the campaign, it is no wonder Pulis has been so desperate to have Lewis Wing in his team again.

Even though this is Wing’s first full season at Championship level, having spent last season on loan at Yeovil following his dream move from Northern League club Shildon, his importance to the team was there for all to see against Reading.

Pulis didn’t even want to let Reading know the 23-year-old was fit enough to start beforehand because of the element of surprise, and that was a decision which had the desired effect.

Whatever happens in the battle for sixth spot in the coming days, this has been Wing’s season. He has proven to himself and the rest of the division that he is equipped for the Championship and, if he continues to progress and improve, even higher.

Pulis said: “I was pleased for Wingy, we didn’t want anyone to know he was fit and what a response. I kept him on for 90 minutes and I should apologise to him. I didn’t want anyone to know, no one else, I didn’t want to put pressure on Lewis. He could have had a hat-trick.

“He has been the find of the season, coming to the Championship. His attitude, his character is good, good attitude and he wants to get better. I feel that is what will take him further and he has a great chance.

“We could have got him involved a game earlier but I was concerned about him coming back and pulling a muscle or something. I always had this game in mind but I wanted to keep it as quiet as I could.”

Wing did tire, he wasn’t an influential in the final third after the restart, but another sign of the impact he has on the team was that Pulis still kept him on. Given it was his first full game since hernia surgery, it was understandable.

For the first half, Wing and Jonny Howson were the best two players on the pitch.

From a Boro perspective, if it was not for those two then it is hard to imagine Reading not being further ahead because there were mistakes made, a few of them.

Wing was always hungry to get on the ball, as was Howson, and he was always valuable in the sense that he was willing to have efforts on goal when the opportunities opened up. Far too often players have shown a reluctance to do that – particularly midfielders.

After Reading had netted a beautiful opener in the 11th minute when teenager Danny Loader, who scored his first senior goal, turned John Obi Mikel on the edge of the Middlesbrough area before curling inside Darren Randolph’s top left corner from 20 yards, there was a brief period where things could have turned sour.

Defenders Aden Flint and Ryan Shotton were guilty of mistakes at the back, while simple passess were not completed properly. The more Wing and Howson got on the ball, the more confidence was bred through the rest of the team.

Wing and Britt Assombalonga had already hit the post and Emiliano Martinez had tipped another effort over from the former, as well as denying George Saville a goal at the back post, before the equaliser just after half an hour.

It was no surprise where it came from. Howson was picked out in acres of space down the right and his delivery bounced off Andy Yiadom, and fell invitingly for Wing to level things up.

Middlesbrough suddenly had a taste for it. Eight minutes later another delivery to the back post from Howson was brought down by Saville, who was tripped by Yiadom. Assombalonga, who had the ball in the net anyway,took the penalty and sent Martinez the wrong way.

Pulis said: “The players have been good all week, we were terrible at Nottingham Forest.

“You have to be honest, no excuses. I didn’t think we were at our best in lots of ways. I wanted a response and we got one.

“Reading scored the goal and the crowd could have got edgy, the players could have, but they never.

“The supporters and players were fantastic. Some of the play down that right-hand side was fantastic. How we came in at half-time and had just two I don’t know.”

There were other chances too. Nothing materialised, but Middlesbrough were in command.

Even immediately after the restart Martinez somehow got his trailing leg to Assombalonga’s close-range header when he changed the direction of Fletcher’s effort on goal.

From that moment on, Middlesbrough withdrew. Reading were invited to press more in search of an equaliser themselves but the best they could muster was late on when Callum Harriott’s backheel had to be denied by Darren Randolph.

Pulis said: “I have not witnessed stuff like this, like the one where the keeper got to Britt’s chance after half-time when he didn’t know much about it. We have not scored enough goals this year so you always worry when it is only 2-1. It is a real eye opener, when you look at it, there is a weakness there. We have to fill that moving forward.

“I will now give the players a couple of days off. The season has been disappointing overall really. I thought we would take things on.

“Those six games (defeats) have killed us, four games we should have at least four draws, to not get none killed us, and then the injuries. We have had so much bad luck.”

Whatever bad luck Pulis’ claims Middlesbrough have had to deal with no longer matters, he will be hoping Lady Luck blesses his team with charm over the next week, so he can get the club back in the Premier League.

Until then there is no way he will be discussing his future, with a one-year option on his deal available when it expires on June 30.

He insisted: “I have great respect for this club and for this chairman, Steve Gibson. I will not be talking about what we will be talking about.”