Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 3 Middlesbrough 0 - signs of the green shoots of recovery at home

Preston North End appear to be in the process of reacquainting themselves with Deepdale.

Thursday, 10th December 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 10th December 2020, 9:16 am
Preston North End striker Jayden Stockley takes a fall when challenged by Middlesbrough defender Paddy McNair

The Lilywhites’ home form this season had unleashed all kinds of emotions – despair, anger, even bewilderment at how poor it had been.

Two wins, a draw and one loss in the last four at home, points to some sort of recovery in PR1.

The defeat to Blackburn a fortnight ago might make some fans question if things are looking up at home, while the victory over Sheffield Wednesday and draw against Wycombe were not exactly convincing.

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Tom Barkhuizen takes a breather after getting a bang on the chin during PNE's win over Middlesbrough

However, this win over Middlesbrough very much ticked the convincing box, a deserved three points put on the board on Wednesday.

North End might have left it until the last half hour to nose in front, left it until the last 10 minutes to score their second and third goals, but it was a deserved result.

For the first time since beating Huddersfield 13 months ago, they found the net three times at home in the Championship.

Brad Potts and Scott Sinclair got on the scoresheet at Deepdale for the first time this season.

North End players rush to congratulate Brad Potts after he gave them the lead against Middlesbrough

Emil Riis scored at Deepdale for the first time full-stop.

Not since April 1972 had Middlesbrough left Preston as beaten men, 11 visits since then seeing seven wins and four draws taken back to the Teesside smog. Hence there being a deep sense of satisfaction in the PNE ranks on a job well done.

This was a third game without defeat for North End, the first time they’ve been able to do that this season.

Although the three goals they put away formed much of the focus, the foundations for victory were laid at the back.

Scott Sinclair celebrates putting PNE 2-0 ahead against Middlesbrough

North End’s defence had some balance for the first time in several weeks.

Andrew Hughes’ return meant they had a left-footer at left-back, backed-up from the bench by Josh Earl who replaced him later on.

With Ben Davies recently back from injury himself, there was that natural balance in the back four.

On the other side, Darnell Fisher was back after serving a three-match suspension, the right-back slotting in like he’d never been away.

Emil Riis celebrates PNE's third goal with fellow substitute Sean Maguire

Round pegs in round holes and it worked wonders.

It meant a more natural flow of play down the sides from which PNE benefited.

Pre-match, Boro boss Neil Warnock had spoken of the ‘Wow factor’ he had got from watching North End’s win at AFC Bournemouth last week.

Warnock must have been quite impressed again at the way they went about beating his side.

Granted the Teessiders had their moments but in the grand scheme of things were second best on the night.

Preston had the best two scoring chances of the first half with Potts and Tom Barkhuizen – Potts driving a shot into the side-netting and Barkhuizen putting one too close to the goalkeeper.

They were to eventually find a way through in the 62nd minute, Barkhuizen starting it off with a long throw-in.

When it was cleared out of the box, Hughes drove back a low shot from 20 yards which might have been travelling wide until it touched off Potts and diverted past the keeper.

Even North End manager Alex Neil thought it was Hughes who had scored until Potts was announced as the scorer by the eagle-eyed stadium announcer.

The floodgates didn’t open straight away, there chances at both ends before the scorers were troubled again.

Jayden Stockley blocked a goal-bound shot from Marvin Johnson, then Sinclair sent a header against the underside of the bar as he followed-up Potts’ parried shot.

PNE wrestled total control of the game with the help of four pairs of fresh legs on from the bench – Tom Bayliss, Earl, Sean Maguire and Riis.

They went 2-0 up in the 81st minute, Riis taking Potts’ pass and playing Sinclair away into the box.

Sinclair’s finish across the keeper without breaking stride, was a fine one.

Three minutes later, Riis put North End out of sight, chasing Ryan Ledson’s pass down the right channel.

He cut into the box, set his sights and fired low past the outstretched right glove of Marcus Bettinelli.

Boro substitute Marcus Tavernier fired against the foot of the post late on, the woodwork's denial of a consolation goal helping bring about a hard worked for clean sheet.

Just as North End might be finding a few home comforts, it is back out on the road for them at Luton and then Barnsley in the next few days.