Five things we learned from Preston North End’s come-from-behind 2-1 win at Middlesbrough
Preston North End came from nowhere to win 2-1 at Middlesbrough on Wednesday night.
Daniel Ayala was sent off for the home side just after the hour mark to spark a revival which saw Paul Gallagher and Jayden Stockley score to make it six straight away wins for the Lilywhites.
Sometimes you need things to go your way
When Brandon Barker went down under challenge from Daniel Ayala just after the hour mark, few expected Keith Stroud to pull out a red card. That he did though and in one decisive moment changed the course of this game. Ayala’s challenge is one that will split opinion up and down the land. Firm but fair? He certainly takes man and ball. Out of control? There is a hint of the former Liverpool man leaving his feet. Either way, the official was in no doubt and in truth his decision gave PNE a lifeline, Alex Neil’s side having been well below par up until that point. The rest as they say, is history.
Gally’s set piece quality may be one of North End’s biggest weapons
PNE made the most of their numerical advantage immediately. Who else but Paul Gallagher stepped up to curl home the free-kick. The midfielder rolled the ball to Andrew Hughes who stopped it dead, Gallagher doing the rest with a low shot that was right in the corner. It was not only a significant moment in the game but also in the No.12’s career, this his 100th senior goal. It had been a flat night for North End but Gallagher’s ability to step up and deliver moments of quality like is undisputed. Aston Villa and Ipswich spring to mind this season and you better believe there’s plenty more to come.
Barker has plenty to offer during the run-in
Brandon Barker has found himself very much on the fringes during Preston North End's excellent run in 2019. The Manchester City loanee showed what he's all about in the second half at the Riverside Stadium though. Quick and direct, the winger gave Ryan Shotton and the Boro backline nightmares. He was of course involved in the turning point in the game, felled as he tried to put the ball past Ayala after taking Sean Maguire's pass. With Tom Barkhuizen and Brad Potts on the sidelines it was a night where Barker needed to take his chance and he will argue he did just that. Competition for places is going to be fierce during the run-in but the City loanee has certainly put himself right in the mix.
Not everything Neil does turns to gold
Alex Neil is a man who prides himself on the amount of analysis he does. He studies and studies and studies before every game. It is after all that research that he will have come up with the decision to play three at the back at the Riverside Stadium. It was a rare departure from a four-man defence and simply didn’t work. North End looked disjointed and in truth were lucky to go into the break just the one goal behind. The formation was abandoned after Ashley Fletcher put Boro in front and few would bet on seeing it again anytime soon. It is to the PNE boss’ credit that he was so decisive in his move to switch things around.
Season of injuries carries on
Keep those fingers crossed North End fans. In a season blighted by injury another one to a key player was to hit the Lilywhites’ hopes at the Riverside Stadium. Alan Browne got in a tangle when coming under challenge from Mo Besic and seemed to hurt his ankle. As you’d expect from the Irishman he tried to continue but after 22 minutes his race was run. With Callum Robinson and Louis Moult closing in on returns and Ben Pearson free from suspension, Alex Neil looked as close as he’s been all season to having an almost fully fit squad. But with no Tom Clarke, Brad Potts and Tom Barkhuizen in the North East before Browne limped off, the PNE boss was patching things together again. Hopefully Browne’s absence will be brief.