PNE Fans’ Panel member John Roper says Alex Neil’s men deserve a big turnout for the Birmingham clash
A game of two halves doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how we came back and collected all three points at Middlesbrough on one of those nights that will live long in the memory.
North End could have easily been three or four down at half-time against a Boro side still smarting from a home defeat last Saturday against Brenford.
However they only had one goal to show for their efforts at half-time and PNE made them pay big time in the second half.
The sending off of Ayala helped the cause as North End grew in stature and equalised from the free-kick conceded by the Middlesbrough captain before his sending off.
When Stockley scored the winner with nine minutes to go there were scenes of utter joy in the away section as North End had done what no Preston team had done since April 1972 and that is win a league game at Middlesbrough.
Alex Neil made two changes in personnel and a change in formation as North End looked to quell the home sides threat.
Josh Earl came in for Darnell Fisher and Ben Pearson, as expected, replaced Ryan Ledson in midfield.
Preston started with a 3-4-1-2 formation which clearly did not work and we were under pressure almost from the moment we gave the ball away, almost from the kick off.
Boro had a series of corners which North End did well to defend but we were getting caught down the flanks with Earl and Browne covering those wide positions.
It was no surpise when Boro went ahead through Fletcher even though the ball took a heavy deflection to beat Declan Rudd.
How we managed to keep it down to one I will never know but we did and the game was about to turn 180 degrees after a re-gig at half time from the manager.
North End reverted to 4-2-3-1 in the second half and looked much more comfortable from the off.
Brandon Barker replaced Earl as North End adopted a more attacking strategy with Barker getting plenty of joy down the left -hand side.
It was the foul on Barker by Ayala just after the hour mark that saw the big change in the game.
The two-footed tackle on Barker looked out of control as the home side went down to 10 men so North End’s chance came.
From the free-kick, a short move between Gally and Hughes saw the North End captain score his 100th career goal and it was game on.
Preston could smell blood and when Nmecha was brought down in the box it looked a certain penalty but the referee waved play on.
However it wasn’t long before a deflected shoot looped up into the air and Jayden Stockley was on hand to head the ball past Randolph and give North End all three points.
Boro tried to rally but we saw the game out well and collected the booty in a memorable victory.
The thing I like about Alex Neil is that he can see when things are not working and is not afraid to change them.
He changed formation after the Boro goal and then changed it slightly again at the start of the second half.
The mood amongst the 411 travelling fans was not good at half time but I thought the home side had looked nervous even though they dominated the first period.
Sure enough as soon as the pressure was on Middlesbrough started to struggle and it was wily old Preston who finished the game off.
North End sit just two points behind the play-offs and surely people will now have to start taking our challenge seriously.
Six points out of six on the road for the boys and with 5,600 coming from the Midlands on Saturday surely the boys deserve a 20,000 crowd to back, what is now, a serious play-off challenge.