Preston North End grabbed a point on Teesside in a scrappy 1-1 draw with the ‘Smog Monsters’ of Middlesbrough.
North End took the lead five minutes before half-time when Josh Harrop scored from close range but the lead lasted less than two minutes, with Darnell Fisher turning the ball into his own net from a dangerous right-wing cross.
Preston and manager Alex Neil will not be happy with the general level of performance displayed in this game but I suspect they won’t be too disappointed to come away from the Riverside Stadium with a draw.
The game was nervous and scrappy from start to finish ,punctuated by many fouls and breaks in play which left the alleged 17,961 crowd clamouring for the final whistle to put an end to the evening’s agony.
I thought PNE looked a little tired throughout to be honest, with having played four games in the last 11 days. North End, playing in all yellow, made one change from the team that started againsnt Brentford at Deepdale on Saturday and that was Alan Browne coming in for Paul Gallagher, who reverted to the bench to save those precious legs of his.
Once again it was 4-2-3-1 for North End but I thought we struggled to counter the Boro formation in the first 20 minutes of the game and it was only after a huge claim for a penalty on Tom Barkhuizen that we really settled down and started to at least exert some pressure on the home goal.
Boro had hit the bar and North End were on the back foot a little but gradually we got into the game and took the lead after 40 minutes.
Alan Browne shot through a crowded goalmouth and as the ball came off the post, Josh Harrop poked home at the other side of the goal to give us the lead.
Barely had the 330 North End fans stopped celebrating when the home side were level after Darnell Fisher, under pressure, turned a McNair cross into his own net to leave the sides going in level at half-time.
I said at the break that we had lost some momentum when Middlesbrough equalised and so it proved with the home side coming out and looking the more dangerous in the opening exchanges of the second half.
North End’s play was patchy but, as ever, Ben Davies and Patrick Bauer were keeping things tight at the back as Boro came forward.
As in the first half, PNE gradually got into things and the game opened up somewhat and for a while it looked like one team would get a winner and steal all three points.
Preston brought on Nugent and, latterly, Potts and Gallagher, with Gally having a good chance from a free-kick in the last ten minutes of the game.
After that it was as if both sides had declared and were happy with the point they held, but an on-song North End would have won this game easily in my opinion as Jonathon Woodgate’s team looked nervous and edgy during the final plays.
On the face of it the point wasn’t a disaster as some other results were reasonably kind to us in the Championship on the night.
Whatever happens in the remaining midweek fixtures North End will go into the Barnsley game on Saturday at Deepdale a maximum of just three points behind the league leaders going into the second international break.
We have just lost a little bit of momentum in these last two games but it is nothing that a win over the Tykes on Saturday would not put right.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the manager just changes it around a little at the weekend as several looked out on their feet at the Riverside, and were clearly feeling the effects of some tough games over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps being out of the League Cup will be a blessing after the break as Preston strive to maintain this very good start to the season.