Match Report: Middlesbrough 0-0 Preston North End

Sean Maguire comes under pressure at the Riverside Stadium.
Sean Maguire comes under pressure at the Riverside Stadium.
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Preston North End came away with just a point at Middlesbrough despite controlling large parts of the game at the Riverside Stadium.

The Lilywhites dictated the play and had the better of the chances against the pre-season title favourites but couldn’t find a way through on Saturday.

Tom Barkhuizen hit the post in the first-half and saw a second-half header saved as Alex Neil’s side made it four clean sheets from their opening five Championship games, continuing their promising start.

Neil had made just one change to his side from the win over Sheffield Wednesday, Alan Browne coming in for Josh Harrop to add to North End’s solidity in the middle of the park.

After Boro had been forced to hack clear a Daniel Johnson corner, the first real chance of the game fell to the home side.

Britt Assombalonga picked up the ball and burst at the PNE defence from deep. With no firm challenge coming the £15 million striker broke clear, only a heavy touch giving Chris Maxwell the chance to rush out and block.

North End were well in the game though, Barkhuizen bending a shot narrowly wide 10 minutes in before going even closer on the quarter hour.

The wide man took a lay-off from Jordan Hugill and burst beyond the Boro defence and hit the post from a tight angle, Darren Randolph getting a hand on the shot.

The chances were coming at both ends though.

Jonny Howson’s long pass played Fabio in behind with the ball bouncing beyond Chris Maxwell. Fortunately for PNE the angle was narrowing all the time and under pressure the Brazilian could only hit the side netting.

The visitors then enjoyed a decent spell of possession, controlling the game to silence the crowd.

One move that involved pass after pass ended with Hugill flicking a header from a Josh Earl cross narrowly wide.

Boro carried a real threat all the time however and went close twice in quick succession just after the half hour.

First Cyrus Christie burst into the box and could have elected to go it alone but instead tried to square the ball with Paul Huntington on hand to block.

Rudy Gestede, forming a powerful front two with Assombalonga, then headed narrowly wide as the hosts looked for a breakthrough.

The final chance of the opening half went PNE’s way though, Barkhuizen doing well to win a free-kick by the left corner flag before sending over the set piece which Huntington nodded goalwards, Randolph heading it around the post.

North End came out after the interval and took the game to Boro, ultimately dominating the second period.

Daniel Johnson shot over the bar from the edge of the area after good work from Alan Browne down the left 10 minutes after the break.

Dangerous crosses from Earl and Sean Maguire then narrowly missed their targets with boos coming from the home crowd.

Randolph was then called into action twice in quick succession to keep North End out.

First Maguire was allowed to drive at the defence with his low shot being helped around the post by the Boro ‘keeper.

The hosts failed to deal with the resultant corner, Barkhuizen’s close-range header being clawed away by the Republic of Ireland international.

North End suffered a blow 20 minutes from time however with Pearson, struggling after a heavy challenge by Adam Clayton, having to go off, Josh Harrop taking his place.

It took until nine minutes from time for the hosts to have their first real effort, Maxwell getting down well low to his left to keep out a shot from substitute Stewart Downing.

There was some late pressure from the hosts with the Lilywhites easily held on to complete an encouraging first month of the season.

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Christie, Fry, Gibson (capt), Friend (Bamford 55), Fabio, Baker (Downing 68), Clayton, Howson, Assombalonga, Gestede. Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Ayala, Leadbitter, Fletcher, Roberts.

Booked: Clayton

PNE: Maxwell, Fisher, Huntington (capt), Davies, Earl, Pearson (Harrop 70), Johnson, Barkhuizen (Mavididi 75), Browne, Maguire (Robinson 90), Hugill. Subs not used: Hudson, Vermijl, Spurr, Horgan.

Booked: Pearson, Harrop

Referee: Darren England

Attendance: 25,295 (961 away)