Boss Alex Neil rues soft goals after PNE's unbeaten run is halted by Middlesbrough
Alex Neil admitted to having mixed emotions after Preston's unbeaten run in the Championship was ended by Middlesbrough on New Year's Day.
North End lost for the first time in 10 games, going down 3-2 at Deepdale after a pulsating clash, despite hitting top form in the first half.
The Lilywhites went behind against the run of play to Daniel Ayala’s header, with Callum Robinson responding less than a minute later on the quarter-hour.
The third headed goal of the game five minutes before half-time from Jordan Hugill gave North End the lead they deserved at the break.
But two goals in eight second-half minutes from Jonny Howson and Ayala turned the game on its head and handed Tony Pulis a first win as Boro boss.
“I’ve got a real mixture of emotions,” said Neil. “It’s so difficult to be disappointed with my players because they’ve done incredibly well over the last nine or 10 games.
“They’ve done magnificently and I thought they were excellent again.
“Equally I’m disappointed in some of the goals we’ve lost because that’s been a real strong suit for us recently.
“I know the players are disappointed as well.
“Two of the goals are just basic balls into the box.
“I’m frustrated for them as much as anything else because I thought they did more than enough to get the three points.
“I’m not going to kid you though, I hate losing.”
Pulis was able to change the game from the bench with the introductions of Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford five minutes into the second half.
With new arrival from Motherwell Louis Moult watching on from the stands Neil had limited attacking resources amongst his replacements.
“Some of the changes made a difference as well,” the PNE boss admitted.
“They brought on Gestede and Bamford, and today we were light up top.
“We only had Daryl Horgan really that was an attacking substitute for us.
“That was the difficulty we had when we tried to chase the game.
“Tom Barkhuizen and Jordan Hugill, out of necessity more than anything else, have played every single minute in nearly every single match.
“I thought they looked dead on their feet.”
After a lengthy unbeaten stretch, Neil backed his side to bounce back with a trip to Wycombe next up in the FA Cup.
“We weren’t outplayed, we weren’t beaten by a team where you think they were better than us,” he said.
“It was just minor things that we didn’t do well enough at crucial times and that’s something that we’re going to have to accept, be frustrated about and try and improve on.”