Boro wary of North End threat

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka
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Preston North End and Middlesbrough had contrasting fortunes at Wembley in May.

The Lilywhites were still popping the champagne corks after their win over Swindon when Boro lost to Norwich under the arch the next day.

So they find themselves on equal footing on Sunday lunchtime as they kick-off their season in front of the Sky cameras at Deepdale.

Both sides will be looking to get off the mark at the first attempt – PNE as they aim to establish themselves back at this level and Boro to start what they hope will be a successful promotion push.

Aitor Karanka is predicting a testing encounter for the Teessiders, the Boro manager wary of North End after promotion.

“It will be very difficult, this is their first game at home after promotion,” said the Spaniard who was No.2 to Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid.

“Sometimes you can get confident, thinking they played in League One last season or that we beat them when we played in the Capital One Cup.

“That would be a mistake to think that.

“It is a very tough game, Preston have a good team, a good manager, they’ve just been promoted.

“They are a team which is going to fight until the very last second because this is their first home game.

“It is a good chance for them to show they are a Championship team.”

After getting to within 90 minutes of the Premier League, Boro are determined to get across the line this season.

They have shown their intent with the £5.5m signing of Stewart Downing from West Ham.

England international Downing is the local lad who has come home.

When he put pen to paper on his move from West Ham in July, it was six years to the day since he had left Teesside to go to Aston Villa.

That deal in 2009 was worth £12m to Boro, with Villa selling him on to Liverpool two years later for £20m.

From there, Downing went to West Ham for £5m, with Boro paying a shade above that to sign him last month.

A role behind the striker looks a likely one for the 31-year-old at Deepdale.

Downing is not the only piece of incoming business done by Boro.

They renewed the loan of defender Tomas Kalas from Chelsea and brought Bolton’s Alex Baptiste.

However, a broken leg sustained in a pre-season friendly will keep defender Baptiste out for many months.

Centre-half Jack Stephens has joined on loan from Southampton.

He was in the Swindon defence torn apart by North End at Wembley, having been at the Robins on loan last term.

Boro lost the services of Patrick Bamford in the summer, the striker returning to Chelsea after spending most of the season on loan at the Riverside.

He bagged 19 goals, 17 of those to help fire Karanka’s outfit into promotion contention.

Bamford has since joined Crystal Palace on loan for the campaign.

The striker who Boro want to fill Bamford’s striking boots is Jordan Rhodes.

They have bid £14m for the Blackburn front man but have so far met with no joy.

Karanka said: “Jordan is one on our list. We know the problem from last year, we need to score more goals.”

Another player to have left Boro is midfielder Lee Tomlin, scorer of two goals against PNE in last August’s Capital One Cup clash.

He joined Bournemouth for £3m earlier this week.