Preston North End boss Alex Neil gives his take on red card that set his side up for Middlesbrough win

Alex Neil in the dugout at Middlesbrough on Wednesday night
Alex Neil in the dugout at Middlesbrough on Wednesday night

Preston North End boss Alex Neil admitted the red card which helped his side on the way to a big win at Middlesbrough was highly contentious.

With the hosts leading 1-0 through Ashley Fletcher’s first-half goal Daniel Ayala was sent off for a challenge on Brandon Barker just after the hour mark.

Paul Gallagher stepped up to score the resulting free-kick with Jayden Stockley on target nine minutes from time to secure a 2-1 victory which saw the Lilywhites close to within two points of the play-off places.

Ayala won the ball but was deemed to be out of control by referee Keith Stroud, Neil acknowledging the decision could have gone either way.

“The game will be spoken about because of the sending off,” the PNE boss said.

“It does change the game and puts it in our favour.

“I think the issue you’ve always got with a sending off like that one is what are the rules nowadays?

“If the rule is if you win the ball then it’s not a sending off then the lad certainly won the ball.

“If the rule looks at how quickly you go into the ball and how high the foot is and a whole host of other things then you could understand why it might be a sending off.

“I’ll be honest with you, if I’m Middlesbrough I’m really disappointed but for us I’m really pleased.”

Neil however wanted to take nothing away from his side’s late revival.

Gallagher’s goal was the 100th of his career while Stockley’s header capped an impressive appearance off the bench.

“We still had a lot of work to do,” said Neil, whose ninth-placed side are now 11 unbeaten in the Championship.

“Middlesbrough are a really well organised team and at that stage it’s still 1-0 in their favour.

“Paul Gallagher does what he does though and affects big games at big moments for us.

“He’s scored his 100th goal and that’s what he’s been doing all of his career.

“He’s a top, top player for us.

“Then we’ve got to find another solution and get the next goal which we managed to do.

“We were really bold and brave and put four strikers on the pitch and got rewarded for that.

“It’s far from the best performance we’ve put in, I think everyone is aware of that, and it did change on a decision and whether it’s a right or wrong one that’s for other people to decide.”

The North End manager conceded that his side could have been dead and buried at the break, such was the level of their first half performance in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation.

“We changed the shape first half and it didn’t work,” Neil said,

“As far as I’m concerned I didn’t get that side of it right but we fixed it.

“To be honest we were fortunate to only be one down.

“I thought Middlesbrough were completely dominant all over the pitch.

“We had a big half-time where we needed to repair a few things and I thought we were better, even before the red card.”.