Sean Gregan’s exclusive column

Tempers flare up during the second half of Preston's match against Middlesbrough
Tempers flare up during the second half of Preston's match against Middlesbrough
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It was my boyhood club against the team where my allegiance now firmly lies yesterday at Deepdale.

Preston against Middlesbrough is always a fixture which captures my imagination because both clubs hold a special place in my heart.

I grew up not far from Middlesbrough and it was the team I supported as a lad.

I used to enjoy going to Ayresome Park as a kid and watching Boro.

I’ll always remember playing against Middlesbrough in the Premier League after I signed for West Bromwich Albion.

We played at the club’s new ground – the Riverside – and all my friends and family came to watch which was a special moment for me.

While I always keep a lookout for Boro’s results, there was only one team I wanted to win yesterday – and that was Preston.

Having captained the club and enjoyed some of the best moments of my career at Deepdale, I view Preston as my club now.

So I settled down in front of the television to watch the game hoping to see the Lilywhites mark their return to the Championship with a win.

I thought on the whole Preston did well, although I felt they were a little reserved at times and gave Boro a bit too much respect.

But you can understand that when you consider the quality at Middlesbrough’s disposal.

They are one of the fancied teams this season and I think anybody who finishes above them this season will probably win automatic promotion.

You have got people like Stewart Downing and Grant Leadbitter who are quality players.

Downing was playing in the Premier League last year and should probably still be playing there.

But Boro will be paying him big money – their owner is backing them. There is talk of them paying £14m for Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn so getting a point off them is not to be scoffed at from Preston’s point of view.

One aspect which might work in Preston’s favour this season is that there will be less expectation on them at home.

When the club was in League One, there were a lot of smaller clubs coming to Deepdale and North End were expected to beat them easy.

It did not always work out like that though.

You would get some teams who would be overawed playing at Deepdale, but many teams enjoyed playing in such a nice stadium and the extra pressure sometimes got to the players in front of their home fans.

Someone was saying to me the other day that something like 17 out of the 22 clubs in the Championship this season have played in the Premier League.

So a lot of clubs will come to Deepdale looking to have a right go and I think that could work to Preston’s advantage.

They probably need a couple more players, but I am sure Simon knows that and he will be working hard behind the scenes to improve the squad further.

Defensively they look pretty solid, but they could do with a bit more creativity in midfield and perhaps a bit of pace up front. But all in all, it’s a good start.