The SIX talking points from Preston North End's 2-0 loss to Middlesbrough

Preston North End were beaten 2-0 by Middlesbrough on Tuesday night, conceding twice but also receiving two red cards.

By Tom Sandells
Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 8:00 am

The Lilywhites started on the front foot before a freakish own goal from the boot of Jordan Storey was sliced past the helpless Daniel Iversen.

Before half time North End were reduced to 10 as Alan Browne was sent off and at the break, manager Alex Neil was also shown a red card.

Marcus Tavernier doubled Boro's lead in the second half to put the game to bed.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

PNE players look dejected at the Riverside Stadium.

Here are six talking points from the game...

1. A slice of bad luck.

Jordan Storey and PNE were very unfortunate to see the defender's attempted clearance slice off the outside of his boot and past Iversen in the North End net.

Up until that point the visitors had been the better team, were lively in possession and looked to be building on a promising start.

The nature of the goal seemed to sum up Preston's plight of late.

They were doing all the right things, they looked like a completely different team to the one that slumped to defeat against Wycombe and then in a rare Middlesbrough attack they're behind.

At that point it's always going to be a tough ask against a well organised Neil Warnock side who are still hoping to reach the play-offs.

It's also a disappointing scenario for Jordan Storey who has been good since, once again, coming in from the cold to step up to the first team.

A couple of inches in any direction and the ball may have landed harmlessly elsewhere - as it was, North End then needed two to win and goals aren't exactly flowing naturally for them.

2. The first red card.

Alan Browne spoke in the week about the need for the players to step up, though the criticism of him saying that and getting himself sent off is harsh.

No one forced him to react to Sam Morsy, he did get himself sent him off.

However, how many people would not react when someone has not once, but twice swung an elbow in their direction?

In reality, a red apiece was probably the correct decision. Of course, that wasn't the case.

It's petulant to kick out, it puts the other 10 players under more pressure and makes the task even harder, but it's a human reaction.

Browne is a player that has given a lot, and then some more, for this football club and the aggression and passion he showed is part of what makes him the battler and leader in the middle of the park most weeks.

He'll be a miss for PNE and will have a good few weeks now to wait to get back into action and put it right as the international break looms.

3. The second red card.

Things went from bad to worse for North End at the break - a man and a goal down, their manager is then sent off too.

Accounts from Alex Neil and from Paul Gallagher who was with the Scot as he was sent to the stands are that the PNE boss was calm in his approach to referee Oliver Langford.

All in all, it seems a bizarre situation.

Neil had not been sent off in his managerial career prior to Tuesday's game and is generally quite reserved on the touchline, particularly towards officials.

But in that moment, it compiled the current mess North End find themselves in, struggling for form and consistency, they were down their captain and their manager.

Neil was stood low down in the stands and was virtually next to the subs, and in an empty stadium, it hardly hindered his voice being heard.

The knock on effect will be interesting, whether he receives a touchline ban or if PNE are able to contest the punishment.

4. Officials.

Players and managers are unable to say too much about the officials in the EFL for fear of reprimand, but they're just not very good.

It seems to be that every week there is at least one game in each division that is decided by a poor refereeing decision.

There is nothing to say that PNE would have gone on to claim all three points, or even one, as they were 1-0 down when Browne was given his marching orders.

But it is a fact that sending off the Irishman completely changed the game.

If it is true that Neil was calm in his approach to referee Langsford and he was given a red card, it plays more into the righteousness that officials exude.

There have been calls for them to do post match interviews to explain decisions and give more insight.

That could be useful following Tuesday's game - it was the fourth official that made the call to send off Browne and if he simply explained he didn't see Morsy swinging, twice, for the Irishman, as frustrating as it would be, you almost have to accept it.

We would also have the other side of the story as to why North End were without their manager on the touchline as they looked to salvage something.

Neil Warnock would certainly have something to say about the officials, as his Middlesbrough side were aggrieved not long ago against Swansea City.

It seems a little like a cop out to highlight the inability of the officials in the football league, but there are only so many occasions where they are a talking point before it needs dealing with.

5. Things have to change.

Regardless of whether you are in the Neil in or Neil out camp, there is agreement that this current form simply cannot continue.

This, it has to be said, is a game in isolation.

Alex Neil could do nothing about his centre half being in a correct position to intercept a cross, but slicing it into his own net.

And had the fourth official also seen Morsy's action, 10 v 10 is a different prospect, one where you can judge the manager a bit more as it's an even playing field.

His side were giving a good reaction to the most recent low of the Wycombe loss and were being positive, playing at pace.

But whatever happens, and however it happens. PNE need to be careful.

Their three games following the international break are against runaway league leaders Norwich City, third placed Swansea City and fourth placed Brentford.

Only rock bottom Wycombe have lost more games than Preston this season, not losing and a bit of an unbeaten run, even if they're draws, would lift the mood.

6. Luton.

Once one game is over you do look ahead to the next one, although not many may be looking forward to it necessarily, it is a massive game.

With the aforementioned trio on the horizon after the international break, the game at Deepdale could be pivotal in how the season ends.

If nothing else it is important to go into the internationals off the back of a good result so it doesn't linger if it doesn't go your way.

As pressure mounts from outside of Deepdale, and thankfully there will be no fans in PR1 on Saturday - as they would be voicing their displeasure - it's starting to get towards now or never for PNE to save whatever is left of their season.

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here.