Boro bit-part for ex-PNE man
Preston North End will cross paths with one of their recent favourite sons when they go to Middlesbrough this weekend.
David Nugent, plying his trade with Boro since last August, made quite an impact in his two-and-a-half years at Deepdale.
The striker netted 37 goals in 107 appearances as a PNE player, winning his one and only England cap – and scoring for them – during his stay.
Bought for £99,000 from Bury and sold to Portsmouth for £6m, it was a good piece of business to say the least.
Only twice has Nugent played against North End since his big-money sale in July 2011.
Five years ago this weekend, he was in the Portsmouth side which drew 1-1 with PNE at Fratton Park.
Then in August 2014, he was a second-half substitute when Leicester played at Deepdale in a pre-season friendly.
Nugent joined Boro for £4m a few days after their goalless draw with North End on the opening day of the season.
He is likely to be on the bench for Preston’s visit, with Jordan Rhodes filling the striker role in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Only once has Boro head coach Aitor Karanka paired them together to start a game since Rhodes arrived from Blackburn in January.
That came against Rovers last month and ended in defeat for the Teessiders.
Nugent has eight goals to his name in Middlesbrough colours, the latest of those being a stoppage-time winner against Hull City before the international break.
That 1-0 victory put Boro back on track after they had lost three games on the bounce.
One of the defeats came at Charlton when assistant Steve Agnew took the team following problems behind the scenes.
Karanka did not take part in training before the visit to Charlton and was not at the game, amid the unrest.
Calm appears to have been restored since then, the win over Hull followed by a 3-2 victory at Queens Park Rangers and Tuesday night’s 3-0 success against Huddersfield.
Boro are handily placed in second spot going into the weekend, a point behind leaders Burnley.
They are a point better off than Brighton in third and have a game in hand on both.
With Hull seven points off the pace in fourth, it looks like a three-horse race for the two automatic promotion slots.
Karanka said: “We have to think about ourselves and know we’re in a really good position.
“It all depends on us and when we play like we did on Tuesday night it’s difficult to beat us.
“We have a game in hand and it all depends on us. We must keep going in the way we’re playing now, showing our consistency and our confidence.
“We’re in a good position, but this league is tough.
“ Today everything is white, but on Saturday everything can be black.
“The team have arrived at an important stage of the season in a good way – we’re confident on the pitch and consistent.”
North End’s record against the top sides this season is a good one. They have taken points off all of the top six, beating Burnley, Hull and Sheffield Wednesday.
Brighton were held to two goalless draws by Simon Grayson’s men.
Said Karanka: ““We’ve won the last three, we’re playing at home again and everyone thinks it will be an easy game.
“But in this league there isn’t an easy game. We have to know how hard it has been to get into this position since we started in August.”