Match report: Preston North End 2 Middlesbrtough 2 - Boro win 4-3 on penalties
Preston North End bowed out of the Carabao Cup as they were beaten in a penalty shoot-out by Middlesbrough at Deepdale.
An easy-on-the-eye 90 minutes produced a 2-2 draw, Callum Robinson and Tom Barkhuizen twice putting North End into the lead only for Ashley Fletcher and Marcus Tavernier to net quick equalisers.
With no extra-time in this season's competition, the third round tie went straight to penalties taken in front of the Bill Shankly Kop.
Ryan Ledson, Louis Moult and Ben Pearson found the net from the spot but Robinson and Graham Burke both put their spot kicks over the bar.
Performance-wise, it was much better from North End but frustration remains at their tendency to concede soon after scoring - think Stoke, Bolton, Reading and Sheffield United.
Robinson put them ahead in the 27th minute, finishing off a good move involving Pearson and Alan Browne but Boro were level within eight minutes through Ashley Fletcher.
Barkhuizen's first goal of the campaign restored the advantage in the 66th minute with a low shot from 25 yards which went in off the inside of the post.
This time the lead lasted just three minutes as Tavernier rifled a second equaliser from outside the box.
An open game produced chances at both ends, Barkhuizen striking the woodwork before his goal while Boro also struck the bar through Rudy Gestede.
It also needed a fine save from Chris Maxwell to keep the visitors out at one stage, his counterpart Dimitrios Konstantopoulos busy at the other end too.
Alex Neil had limited himself to three changes from the side beaten at Sheffield United, fielding a strong side - a departure from the opening two rounds of the competition.
Jordan Storey came into the centre of defence, Pearson returned from a three-match suspension while there was a recall for Brandon Barker.
After lining-up with a back three at the weekend, North End were in a 4-2-3-1 shape - skipper Tom Clarke in the right-back role in the absence of the banned Darnell Fisher.
The first half was open, both sides looking to attack and perhaps playing with more freedom than a league game.
Boro had the game's first sight of goal, Tavernier getting past Storey and putting over a low cross which Paddy McNair fired goalwards, Maxwell getting down to save.
PNE went close in the 10th minute, Robinson's corner from the left met by Paul Huntington who saw his header pushed away by keeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos.
Ledson and Robinson had half chances during a spell of pressure from the hosts, while at the other end, Maxwell got down well to hold Grant Leadbitter's daisy-cutter from 25 yards.
Huntington was close to giving Preston the lead when he met Ledson's inswinging cross with a glancing header, it travelling just the wrong side of the far post.
A long ball over the top almost proved the undoing of Neil's men in the 23rd minute, it playing in Scott McQueen behind the back four who cushioned a volley into the side-netting.
Robinson's excellent start to the campaign continued when he gave North End the lead.
Pearson played a ball out of his own half down the right channel which found the run of Alan Browne, the Irish midfielder playing the ball inside to Robinson.
He had work to do with his back to goal, managing to turn his marker before shooting across the keeper into the net,
The lead was to last only eight minutes though as Boro linked play well outside the PNE box before Lewis Wing slipped a pass through to find Fletcher who took the ball round Maxwell and slotted home.
Just before halt-time, good play from Robinson saw him chest down Pearson's ball on the left and find Barkhuizen with a cross field ball.
Barkhuizen's run took him to the edge of box before he hit a shot which the keeper gathered.
North End started the second half well, twice going close with shots in the space of 30 seconds.
Pearson tried his luck with a shot from 25 yards which bounced off the keeper and away to safety.
When the ball was worked back into the PNE front line, Barkhuizen saw his low drive from the edge of the box hit the foot of the post.
The PNE goal lived a charmed life in the 58th minute as first Maxwell and then the woodwork stood in the way of Middlesbrough taking the lead.
Maxwell made a fine save from close quarters to push away a Fletcher header, the rebound coming the way of Gestede who sent his header up against the bar.
The game which ebbed and flowed saw two goals in the space of three minutes as North End regained the lead only to be swiftly pegged back.
Barkhuizen got on the scoresheet for the first time this season, his low drive on the angle from 25 yards beating the dive of the keeper and hitting the inside of the near post before going in.
But PNE's Achilles heel this term has been conceding after scoring, Boro offering a warning with a Gestede looping header which Maxwell tipped over the bar.
When an unnecessary ball back to Pearson put him in trouble after Preston had cleared a corner, Tavernier got possession and rifled home a fine finish from outside the box.
The hosts almost had an instant reply of their own up their sleeve, Clarke's deep cross kept in beyond the far post by substitute Josh Harrop who found Robinson in the middle.
Robinson's shot on the turn was smothered by the keeper and as the ball ran loose was put behind for a corner.
In the 90th minute, Harrop tricked his way into space in the box and hit a left-foot shot which the keeper dived to push away one-handed.
So it went to penalties, Robinson and Burke missing PNE's second and fifth spot kicks respectively.
PNE: Maxwell, Clarke, Storey, Huntington, Hughes, Pearson, Ledson, Barker (Burke 81), Browne (Harrop 63), Barkhuizen (Moult 85), Robinson. Subs (not used): Earl, Johnson, Gallagher, Rudd.
Boro: Konstantopoulos, Wood (Chapman72), Batth, Fry, McNair, Leadbitter, Wing, Tavernier, McQueen,Fletcher, Gestede. Subs (not used): Liddle, Stubbs, Spence, Malley, Walker, Lonergan.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)
Attendance: 5,095 (731 away)