Reading’s winless run extends to seven matches after another late defeat at Madejski Stadium.
The game was in the balance against promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough until George Friend broke the deadlock from close range in the 77th minute.
Tony Pulis’ side then shut up shop as the Royals sought a way back into the contest to take all three points and keep Scott Marshall without a victory in any of his three games in caretaker charge.
Reading face a busy week ahead against fellow strugglers Millwall on Boxing Day before another London trip at QPR on December 29 before welcoming Swansea City to the Mad Stad on New Year’s Day.
Marshall made four changes to the side which drew at Rotherham United with Gabriel Osho handed a debut in place of the injured fellow academy graduate Tom McIntyre. Chris Gunter also missed out injured while John Swift and Garath McCleary dropped to the bench with Omar Richards, Mo Barrow and Danny Loader all coming in.
And the Royals made a fast start, almost taking a lead inside the opening couple of minutes when Josh Sims played in Sam Baldock, as he did for the opener at Rotherham, but this time the striker was denied by an outstretched boot of goalkeeper Darron Randolph.
Osho was then called into action at the other end to make a big block to deny Britt Assombalonga before the visitors did find the net through a Ryan Shotton header, but the flag was up for offside.
Just as the half looked to be fading out, Richards almost broke the deadlock with a shot from 20 yards which Randolph had to turn around the post.
Barrow was beginning to look increasingly dangerous down the left and he almost carved a way through, picking out Josh Sims, who moved the ball onto Andy Yiadom to blaze over the bar.
Boro’s biggest threat appeared to be via a set piece but Reading cleared away a corner in the final action of the first half to keep the game goalless.
The hosts started the second half as they did the first, on the front foot with Bacuna breaking down the left but his deflected shot went straight into the grasp of Randolph.
Chances were few and far between for either side with Blackett’s vital intervention at one end denying a chance for substitute Jordan Hugill while at the other end a big shout for a penalty was waved away when Bacuna’s goalbound volley appeared to strike an arm in the box.
But the deadlock was finally broken with 13 minutes to go when Barrow and Richards both got drawn to the ball, allowing Paddy McNair space on the right to pick out captain Friend in the centre to sweep in.
Marshall quickly turned to his bench, introducing McCleary in place of Sims and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson for Richards, but it was Boro who went close to adding a second when Jonny Howson was denied by Anssi Jaakkola.
From the resulting corner Friend should have doubled the tally, inexplicably hitting the crossbar from two yards out while at the other end McCleary was the next to try his luck with another penalty appeal for handball waved away by referee Stephen Martin.
Reading carved one final opportunity in the five additional minutes but Blackett blazed over the bar.
The Royals remain only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference.
READING: Jaakkola; Yiadom, Osho, Blackett, Richards (Bodvarsson 85); Rinomhota, Bacuna (c); Sims (McCleary 82), Loader (Swift 70), Barrow; Baldock.
Subs not used: Mannone, O’Shea, Edwards, McNulty.
Yellow cards: Rinomhota (73), Blackett (90)
MIDDLESBROUGH: Randolph; Ayala, Flint, Fry; Clayton; Shotton (McNair 38), Howson, Besic (Wing 67), Saville, Friend (c); Assombalonga (Hugill 67).
Subs not used: Lonergan, Tavernier, Batth, Braithwaite.
Goal: Friend (77)
Yellow cards: Besic (41), Saville (79)
Referee: Stephen Martin
Attendance: 14,943 (inc. 1,233 away)