Aitor Karanka - Photo by North News

Although the club's feint play-off hopes look to have been extinguished, the Head Coach insists there will be no letting up at the Madejski Stadium or the two remaining games, against Barnsley and Yeovil.

"Reading is a very important game for us," said Karanka. "Reading are competing for the play-offs and Barnsley and Yeovil are playing to avoid relegation.

"We need to respect the competition and so we'll work in the next two weeks the same way we have been and we'll go into these games and try to win them."

The Royals - who Boro beat 3-0 at home in December - are currently ninth in the Sky bet Championship, six points above Boro, but victory tonight would see them leapfrog Brighton into the final play-off position.

That's a position Karanka would love to be in, but Saturday's home defeat to Millwall almost certainly killed off any lingering chances of an unlikely late surge into the top six.

Stefan Maierhofer celebrates scoring against Boro - Photo by North News

Two first half goals from giant Austrian striker Stefan Maierhofer proved too much of a mountain for Boro to overcome at the Riverside as their excellent run came crashing to an end.

"I was surprised because we played very well against Burnley but it's difficult to understand," Karanka said.

"We've been playing above our level sometimes because we've been playing with defenders who aren't defenders. But the problem is we can beat Burnley and then with the same team can't beat Millwall. We have to improve our mentality and be stronger.

"You could see on the pitch one side wanted to fight and needed the points and another team was thinking about the play-offs but not in the right way."

It is this inconsistency that has proved the most frustrating thing for the Spaniard since he came to the club.

"I've been here five months and whenever we have a chance or someone is speaking about the play-offs, we lose games" he said.

"We were four points below the play-offs in January and then we lost a lot of points. Now after winning four games everyone was speaking about the play-offs again. The day we play the way we know we can reach the play-offs but until that day it's impossible.

"If we want to do something good next season we need to learn to to think about the next game and not about the play-offs. The first thing is we need to know ourselves and the second is we need to be stronger."

Meanwhile, Karanka revealed that George Friend wasn't fit enough to start against Millwall after missing the Burnley game with a groin problem.

"If George had been fit he would have played from the beginning because he's a very good player," he said. "But I had to think about the Reading game and I couldn't take risks, so I didn't have a left-back and that's why I wanted to play this way."