Match report: PNE 2 Middlesbrough 3

Preston North End's nine-game unbeaten run was ended by Middlesbrough in the rain at Deepdale.

Monday, 1st January 2018, 4:01 pm
Updated Monday, 1st January 2018, 5:05 pm
Callum Robinson celebrates PNE's first goal with Calum Woods

A pulsating New Year's Day clash swung one way and then the other, North End leading 2-1 at one stage only for Boro to score twice in the second half to take the points back to Teesside.

Daniel Ayala headed the visitors in front in the 13th minute, the home side equalising straight away through Callum Robinson.

Jordan Hugill then gave North End the lead in the run-up to half-time, scoring against his home-town club with a deflected header.

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Jordan Hugill after scoring PNE's second goal

Some of the play from Alex Neil's side in the first half was a joy to watch, with them dominating possession.

They also hit the bar just before the interval through Tom Barkhuizen.

But they were unable to reproduce that after the interval and two goals in eight minutes turned the game on its head.

Jonny Howson curled home a finish from the edge of the box to equalise in the 65th minute, then Ayala got his second of the contest in the 73rd minute.

Jordan Hugill after scoring PNE's second goal

Try as they might to force an equaliser, North End came up against a red wall in the closing stages.

Neil had rotated his squad in the wake of Friday night's hard-fought victory at Cardiff, making four changes to the starting XI.

Calum Woods, Daniel Johnson, Josh Harrop and Robinson returned to the starting XI, with Greg Cunningham, Paul Gallagher, Daryl Horgan and Alan Browne moving to the bench.

It was Boro who started the brighter, forcing a couple of early corners as the rain swept in at Deepdale.

The visitors went in front in the 13th minute, Stewart Downing delivering a free-kick from the left-wing into the box where Ayala rose highest to head into the net from seven yards.

North End's response was instant and from then on, they dominated the first-half play - having 72% possession in the opening 45 minutes.

They were level within sixty seconds, Barkhuizen showing a burst of pace to chase a pass down the right-hand side of the box and whip a cross over to the far post to pick out Robinson who sent a header back across the keeper into the net.

Some good chances followed, Hugill forcing a great save from Darren Randolph in the 26th minute.

Hugill got on the end of Robinson's inswinging cross, guiding a header towards the bottom corner which Randolph dived to glove behind at full stretch.

Ben Davies scooped a shot over the bar after meeting a Harrop corner, then a few minutes later put an effort wide - Harrop's corner from the other side staying low to set him up.

Robinson forced another fine save from Randolph just past the half-hour mark, his curling right-foot shot from outside the box tipped over by the Republic of Ireland international.

Preston went in front five minutes before the break, Johnson's left-footed cross from the right channel finding Hugill, his header appearing to clip Ayala on the way past Randolph.

Only the woodwork denied them a third goal on the stroke of half-time, Harrop's free-kick from the right headed back across goal by Tom Clarke, the ball falling for Barkhuizen who sent a header against the bar.

In stoppage-time, Robinson then elected to shoot from the edge of the box when colleagues were better placed around him, it going straight at the keeper.

Early in the second half, Johnson saw a shot from outside the box saved by Randolph, North End having broken on the counter attack after winning the ball in midfield.

Another sight of goal came after Robinson was fouled by Cyrus Christie just outside the left corner of the box, Harrop's free-kick beating the wall but was held by the keeper at the near post.

But after all that good play it was Boro who got the next goal, equalising in the 65th minute.

North End didn't clear their lines properly when the ball was played up to substitute Rudy Gestede on the edge of the box, Davies slicing an attempt to get it away.

It fell to Howson who dragged it across two PNE players before whipping a right-foot shot past Chris Maxwell from 20 yards.

Within eight minutes Preston had fallen behind as Boro turned the game on its head.

They switched off defending a corner, the flag kick rolled short to Adama Traore on the corner on the box, the winger lifting a cross over to the far post where Ayala squeezed a header between Maxwell and the post.

Neil responded with a double substitution, Gallagher and Horgan coming off the bench to replace Johnson and Barkhuizen.

In the 86th minute, Ben Pearson drove a first-time shot from 20 yards just wide, Robinson's lay-off finding him in space.

PNE: Maxwell, Clarke, Huntington, Davies, Woods, Pearson, Johnson (Gallagher 78), Barkhuizen (Horgan 78), Harrop, Robinson, Hugill. Subs (not used): Cunningham, Browne, Welsh, O'Connor, Rudd.

Boro: Randolph, Christie (Shotton 59), Gibson, Ayala, Friend, Guedioura (Gestede 50), Howson, Leadbitter, Downing, Traore, Assombalonga (Bamford 50). Subs (not used): Fletcher, Johnson, Baker, Konstantopoulos.

Referee: David Coote (Nottinghamshire)

Attendance: 15,101 (2,487 away)