There had been two FA Cup games in between, however Boro’s relegation from the Premier League after 11 seasons in the top flight brought them to Deepdale in the Championship.
The contest ended in a 2-2 draw, right-back Billy Jones scoring 53 seconds into stoppage-time to earn North End a point.
It was the second time the home side had equalised, Paul Parry having done so early in the second half.
As the clock ticked it looked like that second goal would suffice for victory, however Jones had different ideas as he went up field when PNE were awarded a late free-kick.
He connected with a Ross Wallace delivery to head home from six yards and put a point on the board for his side.
Had the merit of the Lilywhites’ equaliser been judged on the first half, it would have been scarcely deserved, with Boro having bossed the opening 45 minutes.
Alan Irvine’s men were much improved in the second but Boro probably still felt somewhat frustrated to have travelled home with only one point rather than three.
The visitors had Sean St Ledger in their defence just six weeks on from a loan switch from PNE which should have turned into a permanent £4.5m move the following January.
History showed that St Ledger returned to PNE at Christmas and the transfer fell through, one his reasons for electing not to go through with it was that Boro sacked Gareth Southgate – the manager who signed him.
Colin Calderwood was in caretaker charge for the visit to Deepdale, with Gordon Strachan waiting in the wings to be Southgate’s successor.
PNE goalkeeper Andrew Lonergan was kept busy in the first half, saving from O’Neil and Marvin Emnes
At the other end North End mustered little in the way of chances, Parry’s deflected shot which went wide their best opening.
O’Neil broke the deadlock just before half-time, his free-kick from 22 yards staying low and going through the wall before beating Lonergan.
Stern words were clearly said by Irvine at the interval, with North End much livelier and streetwise in the second half.
They equalised with an hour played, Eddie Nolan and Wallace linking well down the left, with Wallace whipping over a cross to the near post.
Jon Parkin’s header was parried by Brad Jones, Nolan’s follow-up deflected across the six-yard box to the far post where Parry slid in to score.
Boro retook the lead seven minutes later, Leroy Lita’s lay-of finding Johnson who drove a low shot across Lonergan into the far bottom corner of the net.
Rhys Williams hit the bar for the visitors as they pressed for a third goal but it was PNE who had the final say as the game moved into time added on.
Wallace swung a free-kick left-footed from the right-wing into the middle, Jones escaping his marker to nod home.