It was the first competitive game for the Australia international since the first week of January when he suffered an Achilles tendon injury at Barnsley in what was just his third piece of action following an unrelated Achilles injury 11 months earlier.
The final 10 minutes of the game apart, when he was understandably blowing, the 27-year-old came through unscathed. It was a game where he constantly involved, either in the thick of the action or organising.
It was bright spot on an otherwise disappointing afternoon as Paul Jenkins's side fell to a third successive defeat, this one at Reading's Hogswood training complex in leafy Berkshire.
Boro were three down in 54 minutes. Liam Kelly converted a 12th minute penalty following a foul on Harry Cardwell. Five minutes later Cardwell added a second with a simple finish from close range when Boro failed to deal with a cross from deep out on the right. Just nine minutes into the second half Lisandro Semedo smashed in from close range.
Cue changes. Harry Chapman, ineffective, was replaced by Alex Pattison and Jenkins reshuffled the pack.
The changes worked and Boro were handed a lifeline with a terrific goal from Arnel Jakupovic on 66 minutes when a first time shot from the right-hand edge of the penalty are swerved around goalkeeper Stuart Moore.
The Austria U19 international added a second on 74 minutes when he turned to rifle home low into Moore's bottom left-hand corner from 22 yards.
It immediately brought memories of last year flooding back when Boro scored twice late in the game to secure a 3-3 draw and when, with just minutes to go, Joao Morelli went through with options in front and to the right as he closed in on the edge of the box a repeat was on the cards.
However the Brazilian attempted to set up Jakupovic for his hat-trick, his pass was intercepted and all chance was lost.
Reading: Moore; Watson, Owusu, Fridjonsson, Hyam, Sweeney, Sheppard, Rinomhota, Cardwell, Kelly, Semedo. Unused subs: Lawal, Ward, Husin, Jules, Chatee.
Middlesbrough: Fryer; Johnson, Elsdon, Williams, Bennett, Tinkler, Chapman (Pattison 60), Morris, Jakupovic, Morelli, McGinley (Maloney 85). Unused subs: Coddington (gk); Wheatley, Jowers.
Referee Mr A Laver
Elsdon 77, Williams 83.
Full time: Reading U21s 3 Middlesbrough U21s 2