A decent performance but a disappointing and narrow defeat for the 771 fans who made the trip to the Riverside.
North End put in a very workmanlike display against a Boro side costing several times more than Simon Grayson’s boys and who, with a bit more clinical finishing, could have easily had something from the game. It was fairly even for half-an-hour but the home side got well on top after the goal and we were glad to go in only one down. In the second half, however, we were the better side but could just not find that killer pass or that quality in the box which would have given us some reward for our efforts. Five changes is usually not conducive to a top class performance but it is a credit to the manager and his staff that the players who came in all did their jobs and did not let anybody down on the day. North End started well enough and the game was played at a decent tempo in the first few minutes. North End lined up 4-4-2 but Ben Pearson often dropped back deep into what was effectively a 4-1-3-2 formation. Boro looked dangerous on the ball but North End matched them in every area of the park in the early part of the game. Garner had a chance for North End, whilst at the other end, North End old boy David Nugent had an effort really well blocked by Bailey Wright. The home side upped the tempo around the half-hour mark, and when Adomah finished well in the 32nd minute we were on the back foot for a while. Nugent could have easily made it two right on the stroke of half-time but Lindegaard made an excellent save diving to his right to send North End in only one down at the interval. Clearly the job in the second half was to keep Boro quiet and then as the game wore on, they would get edgy and our chance might come. The plan worked to a greater extent and would have been enhanced even further if Huntington had sent his header goalwards will a little more conviction early in the second half. North End had another chance on the hour and then midway through the second half, a Vermijl piledriver almost put us level but was well saved by the Boro keeper. North End were well on top at this point but as the game wore on it became more open as we looked for the equaliser that, alas, never came. Middlesbrough had a couple of chances late on but they looked very nervous at the back with time ebbing away. The did, however, manage to see the five additional minutes out and the thunderous roar at the final whistle showed how much the narrow 1-0 win meant. Defeat in any game is never easy to take but with all the circumstances taken into consideration I think we should not be too disheartened after this defeat and the boys can certainly take plenty of positives from their afternoon’s work. The game hung on North End not being able to play the killer ball and for that Boro must take some credit but once again it took a top quality Championship side to get the better of North End and on another day we could have been coming home with at least a point. The facts are, though, that we have lost two on the trot and we must put that right on Saturday when MK Dons are the visitors to Deepdale, as it would be a terrible shame to let a season full of some much promise just fizzle out at the end.
Last week following our bragging-rights derby-day victory over Blackburn I thought there was maybe room for a late passenger to jump aboard the play-off ship before it left the shore. However, two successive defeats since then have meant that although we technically still have time to catch it, we are now stuck in a mid-table traffic jam on the way to the port and are almost certain to miss it. The first half at Middlesborough saw us mainly on the back foot and at times we had to defend doggedly against the promotion-chasing side managed by Aitor Karanka. His side also contained a former North End idol David Nugent. But the striker looked a pale imitation of the player who tormented opposition defences in the Billy Davies era and missed several chances.Boro’s first-half persistence finally paid off shortly after the half-hour mark as we tried to defend deep and soak up the pressure, but we were eventually unable to do this and conceded a goal. In the second half, we had more momentum going forward and, as the half went on, apprehension grew amongst a nervous home crowd and all the noise was being made by another good away following tucked away in the corner of the ground North End were attacking. We were more than a match for Boro and played some decent football but were unable to find an equaliser and as the clock ticked into injury time, a relieved home crowd finally found their voices again as they sensed victory. Whilst the loss made it our first back-to-back defeats this year I was not too disappointed as I consider tenth place in the league and being well clear of the drop zone, a tremendous achievement by the management team and players in our first season back in the Championship and one which we can hopefully build on next season.