Middlesbrough 4-0 Preston North End - Gentry Day to forget as North End lose a man and are heavily beaten
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Chuba Akpom opened the scoring before a second half double took the game well out of reach thanks to Cameron Archer. Bambo Diaby was sent off just minutes before the end of the 90, with Boro adding a fourth in second half stoppage time through Marcus Forss.
Ryan Lowe made two changes for the game, Robbie Brady and Ched Evans dropped out for Alvaro Fernandez and Ryan Ledson.
Brady took a place on the bench though Evans did not make the 18, missing out through injury.
There was a change of shape for the visitors too, Ledson playing alongside Ben Whiteman at the base of the midfield, with Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson both playing further forward in support of the lone striker Tom Cannon.
The home side quickly took a grip of the game and the early possession, taking PNE a quarter of an hour to get themselves a consistent share of the ball.
Boro got themselves ahead after 22 minutes though, through a usual suspect. Michael Carrick's men were probing in possession, as they were for much of the first half, and Akpom found the feet of former PNE man Archer before running on into the box for the return pass. He was found by the Aston Villa loanee, controlled the ball on his right foot and shot on his left, with a slight deflection off the boot of Fernandez helping the ball past Freddie Woodman.
It was nearly two just four minutes later as the home side came flying down the right wing. Forss stole away down the right flank before cutting it back for Archer who kicked only the air. Whiteman was retreating and he made contact with the ball, nearly sending it into the top corner of his own net but for a strong hand from Woodman.
After 34 minutes PNE were again under pressure. After a spell of possession in the Boro half, ignoring forward runners, the home side broke at pace. Diaby was left defending three attackers by himself, committing to the tackle on Archer. He found Akpom who got to the edge of the box before taking aim and was thwarted by Woodman.
North End did manage a shot on target before the end of the first 45, Ledson heading into the path of Cannon who checked back from the left channel to try and curl it past Zack Steffen, although it was hit straight at the 'keeper.
Browne also hit the target, both chances coming with four minutes left in the half, flicking on a Fernandez cross but again it was comfortable for the Boro stopper.
The home side responded at the start of the second half and it took them just four minutes to have their first effort at goal as Riley McGree sent his shot over the bar.
On 52 minutes, they went one better and it was, of course, Archer. After six months on loan at North End last season scoring goals he was back at it with his first against his former side. Boro's no.10 got away down the left, got past Diaby and then the covering Jordan Storey to shoot high and over Woodman - with a muted celebration.
And before the game could reach the hour mark, it was 3-0. Archer again finished it off but it was a nice move from Middlesbrough, and easy for them. Carrick's side made their way down the left wing before squaring it to Akpom on the edge of the area, he played it on one more time to Archer on the edge of the 'D' who struck it low past Woodman.
There were more chances for the automatic promotion chasers, with Hayden Hackney and Archer both going for goal on 63 and 66 minutes but neither could hit the target.
PNE weren't entirely done in the game and they forced an excellent save from Steffen. Fernandez's cross from the left to the far post found Cannon whose side-footed volley looked destined for the far corner but for a glancing hand from the American.
It went from bad to worse for Preston with just two minutes left in the match. A terrible pass from Jordan Storey put Diaby under pressure and his error controlling the ball gave Akpom a free run at goal from the halfway line. The Senegalese defender desperately tried to get back and tripped Boro's top scorer just outside the box, receiving his second yellow card of the day after an earlier altercation with Forss.
The resulting free kick was sent over the North End wall and was only denied by the bottom of the crossbar off the boot of substitute Alex Mowatt.
Middlesbrough were not settling for three though and they took full advantage of their extra man. Ryan Giles showed some fine feet to get beyond his marker, carrying the ball then 40 yards to the byline before supplying a low cross for Forss at the near post to make it 4-0, four minutes into stoppage time.
PNE Starting XI: Woodman, Storey, Diaby, Cunningham (Hughes, 28'), Potts, Whiteman, Ledson (Parrott, 45'), Fernandez (Brady, 85'), Browne (Woodburn, 85'), Johnson (Delap, 85'), Cannon.PNE subs: Cornell, Onomah.Middlesbrough Starting XI: Steffen, Smith, Fry, Lenihan, Giles, Howson (Barlaser, 82'), Hackney (Mowatt, 72'), McGree (Bola, 72'), Akpom, Forss, Archer (Ramsey, 82').Middlesbrough subs: Roberts, McNair.