Jonathan Woodgate tackles Kevin Doyle
Tuncay Sanli's late header earned Boro a point in a scrappy match between two teams short of form and confidence.
After an entirely forgettable first half, Dave Kitson gave Reading the lead, superbly lobbing Ross Turnbull.
With Boro lacking a cutting edge, it looked likely to be enough to heap more pressure on boss Gareth Southgate.
But with seven minutes remaining Tuncay headed home Luke Young's cross for his first goal for Boro, who despite the point are still in the bottom three.
Both teams had been in poor form going into the match, with Reading losing three on the spin and Boro having to look back to 1 September for their last win.
Reading at least had the encouragement of knowing that the visitors had to field their third choice keeper in Turnbull.
However, the youngster was a virtual spectator for much of the first half as Boro created the majority of the few chances on offer.
Marcus Hahnemann had to be alert to block a Stewart Downing shot in the seventh minute and on 15 minutes the keeper easily saved Jeremie Aliadiere's weak shot.
Reading were reduced to hopeful efforts, a first-time drive from Kitson, which was easily held by Turnbull, being symptomatic of their efforts.
Despite an obvious dearth of quality from both sides, Boro would have been disappointed not to have gone in ahead having wasted two excellent late chances.
First Dong-Gook Lee appeared to pull out of a header with the goal gaping and then Adam Johnson saw his low shot deflect off Hahnemann and onto the post following good build-up play.
The visitors were made to pay for their profligacy early in the second half as Reading scored with their first clear-cut chance.
Kevin Doyle rose well to flick on a long ball and Kitson escaped his marker to lift a delightful lob over the stranded Turnbull from 25 yards.
Rather than spark Boro into action, the goal seemed to rid them of any confidence and they could have quickly gone further behind.
Doyle forced a low save from Turnbull, while Jonathan Woodgate had to be alert as the last man as Kitson threatened to run through.
With Boro apparently capable of creating little of their own, Reading almost gifted them an equaliser anyway.
A cross from the right wing should have been routine for Ibrahima Sonko to deal with. However, the defender inexplicably left it, allowing Aliadiere to nip and head just wide of Hahnemann, whose reaction left Sonko in no doubt as to how he rated his defending.
Southgate made a double change on 69 minutes, Tuncay replacing Lee and Robert Huth coming on for Woodgate.
And just as it appeared that the changes would be in vain, Tuncay rose 10 yards out to power home a header from Young's superb right wing cross.
However, Kitson could still have won it at the death, his header from Nicky Shorey's cross falling inches wide.
Reading manager Steve Coppell:
"I thought it was a fair result. We weren't fluent, but having got in front it was disappointing to lose the initiative.
"We were frightened of making mistakes and because of that we were frightened of doing anything. It was unfamiliar from what we've been used to, but sometimes you have to say it's not our day, take a point and move on.
"It will be three from seven or eight who go down, it depends who goes on a good run of form. Every game is vital, home games are important for us, but we have to improve our away form or it will be a sticky season for us."
Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate:
"We have taken a small step in the right direction with the performance, although we're in the bottom three now.
"We deserved a point, but the way they scored was straightforward. If you concede like that you have problems.
"I thought the attitude was spot on. We had quality up to the penalty area, but then it deserted us."
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Hunt, Harper, Gunnarsson (Long 86), Convey (Bikey 77), Doyle, Kitson.
Subs Not Used: Federici, Cisse, Rosenior.
Booked: Murty, Gunnarsson.
Goals: Kitson 54.
Middlesbrough: Turnbull, Young, Woodgate (Huth 69), Wheater, Pogatetz, Johnson (Cattermole 89), Boateng, Rochemback, Downing, Aliadiere, Lee (Sanli 70).
Subs Not Used: Steele, Hutchinson.
Goals: Sanli 83
Ref: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire)