Dave Seddon's PNE verdict
Preston North End's long wait for a league win on Teesside goes on but they can take heart from taking Middlesbrough all the way in this clash.
Not since November 1971 have PNE won a league game in Boro’s back yard – either the Riverside Stadium or their old home at Ayresome Park.
The FA Cup did provide some joy in 1987 with that big moment from pint-sized Ronnie Hildersley giving them a victory.
But when it comes to league football, the Smog lot have one over on North End.
The fact that the visitors left empty-handed at the weekend was harsh.
You would argue that they were worth a point and the one-way traffic in the second half might even have tempted some to argue that all three were deserved.
I felt that PNE merited a share of the spoils, based on a decent opening spell and a spirited recovery from a shaky patch, during which they conceded the goal.
Only one side looked like scoring after half-time and they were all in yellow.
It was typical of a game at this stage of the campaign, Boro needing the victory for their automatic promotion challenge and getting more and more nervous as they hung on to the lead given to them by Albert Adomah.
North End went through similar last season in their battle to get out of League One, tension high and nerves jangling as the big prize loomed closer into view.
Saturday’s hosts took the ball into the corners, made their ball boys redundant and slowed play down in every way they could think of in order to get through the closing stages.
They had survived quite a few scares before that, with Eoin Doyle having an effort kicked off the line and then Marnick Vermijl forcing a fine save from keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos – a name any Scrabble lover would love to put on the board.
Had either of those gone in, or indeed a low drive from Joe Garner which whistled just wide, a point would have come back along the A66 and down the M6.
As it was, Boro held out and look a decent bet to go up in one of those top two places.
They did what PNE could not manage – they put the ball in the net.
A touch of fortune came their way in doing so, Bailey Wright losing his footing at the vital moment as he made to challenge Adomah to a George Friend cross.
As Wright lay on the turf, the home winger showed some nice footwork and a smart finish to settle the contest.
It inflicted a second loss on the trot for North End, a rarity, when consistency has been the name of the game this season.
Just twice before had they lost back-to-back games, in late summer when they were beaten three times in a row by Ipswich, Hull and Derby, then when Leeds and Huddersfield got the better of them in December.
Hopefully this loss and the one to Fulham last week, turn out to be nothing more than a late-season blip.
What is not needed is for results to take a bigger slide, to take a coat of gloss off what has been a very impressive first season back at this level.
At least encouragement can be taken from the fact they pushed big-spending Boro all the way, made them sweat, toil and scrap for the three points.
Contrast the squads on show – among the substitutes for Boro were Jordan Rhodes, Stewart Downing and Adam Clayton – they cost roughly £16m between them.
North End’s six-man bench included 18-year-old Clive Smith, the seventh seat left free as they had no one to fill it.
Yet had the ball gone an inch or two the other way a couple of times, they would have found parity with Boro.
Simon Grayson’s squad which made the trip north was lacking four starters from recent games.
Tom Clarke, Jordan Hugill, Adam Reach and Calum Woods all sat this one out for a variety of reasons, whether it be a bumped head, a rolled ankle, ineligibility or a sore calf muscle.
The loss of Clarke, Reach and Woods deprived Grayson of the numbers necessary to play his favoured 3-5-2 away formation.
He went 4-1-3-2 instead and, later, a straight 4-4-2, both systems showing a quite bold intention.
Ben Pearson was given the holding role in front of the back four, Paul Gallagher, Daniel Johnson and Callum Robinson spread across the pitch in a three-man midfield.
Eoin Doyle partnered Joe Garner in a flame-haired front two.
The tweak to 4-4-2 just beyond the hour mark saw Jermaine Beckford and John Welsh replace Robinson and Pearson.
That was done by pulling Doyle out to the left wing with Gallagher on the right, Welsh in the middle with Johnson.
In attack, Beckford and Garner came together in the search for more cutting edge.
Preston were at their most dangerous for that last half-an-hour or so, Welsh giving more purpose to the midfield play.
Welsh might have slipped down the pecking order of late but don’t write him off too soon – if evidence was needed that he still has a part to play, then here it was.
Facing PNE for only the second time competitively since he left Deepdale for a £6m fee nearly nine years ago, was David Nugent.
He got the nod ahead of Rhodes to lead Boro’s attack in a side which showed four changes to their last outing.
Preston went one better with five, the one voluntary swap being that of Johnson for Alan Browne.
Early half-chances fell for the visitors and even in those opening exchanges, you could feel a bit of tension in the home crowd, a lunchtime win for Burnley against Leeds cranking up the pressure at the top of the table.
The good start made by Grayson’s men gave way to a spell of pressure from Boro which saw them take the lead in the 32nd minute.
Just before the goal, Paul Huntington had done well to block Nugent’s shot after the ball had slipped from Anders Lindegaard’s gloves.
The goal was simply worked and well finished, Friend putting in a cross from the side of the box towards ADOMAH.
As Wright slipped, he took the ball across the defender and tucked a slow shot past Lindegaard from six yards.
Nugent went one-on-one before half-time, a recovery from Wright forcing him on to his left foot, a well-struck shot bringing a very good save out of Lindegaard.
In the second half there were chances for Huntington, Doyle, Garner and Vermijl.
Doyle’s was a half-hit shot during a scramble but still forced a goalline clearance from Friend.
In contrast, Vermijl struck a rocket shot from the edge of the box after Garner’s fine cross had been knocked down into his path by Gallagher.
Konstantopoulos made a fine save to push it away – a foot either side he would not have stood a chance.