Dave Seddon's verdict: Middlesbrough 2 Preston North End 0 - a story of an own goal, two red cards and a team heading in the wrong direction

The way Preston North End’s defeat against Middlesbrough unfolded was typical of a side down on their luck, out of form and who have lost their way.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 12:31 pm

An own goal, the captain sent off after 36 minutes and the manager having to watch the second half from the stand after a red card of his own.

That formed the backdrop to a 19th defeat of a season which has turned sour.

It was the third loss in four games, just a solitary point taken in that period.

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Preston skipper Alan Browne protests after being red-carded against Middlesbrough

The bigger picture is three wins, three draws and nine defeats this year, form which has dropped them down to 16th place in the table.

PNE still have a safety net between themselves and the bottom three and there are others in a more perilous position.

It’s just getting that bit more uncomfortable though and should they be okay this season, you do worry about the longer-term effects going into the next campaign.

Two red cards to match the colour of the Riverside Stadium, formed the headline of Tuesday night’s reverse.

PNE get the ball in the net but Middlesbrough's protests are upheld as the effort is flagged offside

Alan Browne got the first for kicking out at Sam Morsy after the Boro midfielder had twice landed blows on the PNE skipper.

Morsy’s actions were not spotted by any of the officials, unlike Browne’s misdemeanour which saw him sent off.

The same punishment was dished out to Alex Neil when he came on to the pitch after the half-time whistle to talk to referee Oliver Langford about Browne.

Neil covering the ground from technical area to the edge of the penalty box to make himself heard was the reason for his red card rather than what he said.

PNE manager Alex Neil makes his point about Alan Browne's red card to referee Oliver Langford

The sending-off was a rather academic one, Neil able to stand the row behind where the substitutes were to watch the second half.

The numbers wanting the Lilywhites to show Neil the red card in terms of his job are growing.

It’s getting more difficult to argue against the fans who hold that view with every defeat that comes.

They aren’t basing their opinion just on the 2021 form but also on results since last June’s restart.

Alex Neil watches from the stand after being sent-off during PNE's defeat at Middlesbrough

Neil will argue, and rightly, that his squad isn’t as strong since the January transfer window shut – Ben Pearson, Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher three big losses.

Just at the moment though, it seems that what he tries is hitting a brick wall.

He persists with Ched Evans as a lone figurehead up front, the striker’s support supposedly from the wings and the No.10 position.

Neither Scott Sinclair nor Tom Barkhuizen are cutting the mustard at the moment on the flanks, while it was back to Brad Potts instead of Daniel Johnson in the advanced role on Teesside.

Anthony Gordon had to sit and watch the full 90 minutes from the bench when he could have at least provided more imagination down the side.

What is worth noting is that until Browne’s red card, North End were very much in the game and had played some decent stuff.

North End defender Jordan Storey sees a header pushed over the bar by Middlesbrough goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli

Sepp van den Berg hit the bar with a 20-yard shot at 0-0 and the visitors were edging it when Boro took a 22nd-minute lead out of the blue.

Yannick Bolaise’s cross was delivered in hope more than expectation, all Jordan Storey needed to do was make a very routine clearance.

There wasn’t a Boro player within five yards of him as he swung his right boot and saw the ball slice off it past Daniel Iversen at the near post.

Sinclair had the ball in the net after Storey’s effort from a corner had been blocked but it was flagged offside.

The dynamic of the game changed with Browne’s red card and an early second-half goal for Boro effectively made the remainder of the contest a damage-limitation exercise.

Iversen made a superb save with his feet at point-blank range from Paddy McNair but was beaten soon afterwards.

McNair’s cross was fired against the bar by Chuba Akpom, half-time sub Marcus Tavernier following up to guide a header into the net.

Another good save with his feet was to follow from Iversen, this time denying Neeskens Kebano. How important a player the Danish keeper has become to PNE.

North End are heading the wrong way at the moment, what it will take to reverse the trend is something the fans have made their mind up on.

The attention now turns to Luton at Deepdale on Saturday, a key game at a critical juncture of the season.

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