PNE Fans' Panel verdicts
A disapoointing result to end the festive period but perhaps some mitigation in the outcome of this game to soften the blow for North End fans.
The boys have done a huge amount of running and put in a tremendous amount of effort since the defeat at Ipswich to take 19 points from the last 30 on offer.
That is almost promotion form since the horrendous injury list started to clear up so maybe after this defeat we can take a breather and plan for the 20 league games ahead.
No one likes losing but there was not too much damage done in the league table and the manager and staff can now assess what we have and with the incomings, plan for the next set of games.
North End played well for an hour but the Boro subs changed the game in my opinion and you could see North End visibly tiring as the game wore on.
The game started at an excellent pace with the visitors looking dangerous on the break and North End looking just as dangerous at the other end.
Middlesbrough took the lead when Ayala headed home far too easily for my liking and I must admit to being worried at that stage that it could be a long afternoon.
North End replied immediately though, when Tom Barkhuizen put a super cross in for Callum Robinson to nod back past the keeper and put North End level.
PNE were on top from this moment and when a Hugill header took a big deflection off Ayala into the net it looked like it was our boys who were moving into top gear.
A Barkhuizen header hit the crossbar before the break and I am fairly surely if that had have gone in then North End would have gone on to win the game.
North End started the second period well but Boro looked like they had suffered a stern taking to at half -time from Tony Pulis and after 10 minutes of the second half the introduction of Bamford and Gestede into the proceedings turned the game for the visitors.
North End were not controlling the midfield as they had done in the first half and it was no surprise with 25 minutes to go that Middlesbrough equalised with a excellent shot from Jonny Howson.
North End were offering little up front and when Ayala knocked home a scruffy third goal we were up against it in the final fifteen minutes.
Alex Neil brought on Gallagher and Horgan and although we had more of the ball, we flattered to deceive in the oppositions box and it was Boro who collected all three points in this first fixture of the New Year.
It wasn’t North End’s worst performance of the year, in fact the first half was probably as good as we have seen at home for quite some time, but I think a collection of circumstances led to our eventual downfall although I don’t think the result is one for fans to get too upset about.
There are some good young players in this team and squad and a set-back like this will only enhance their learning for when they come up against similar opposition on another day.
I thought Pearson, Harrop and Barkhuizen all made big contributions for North End and although we have to accept that the back four, collectively, had an off day there is no doubt that this team will live to fight again this season and it won’t be very long before they do.
Defeat? Yes. Disaster? No and just so long as we take the learning then its just put this one to bed and move onwards and upwards.
A good game for the neutral as five goals provided plenty of entertainment on a rain-soaked afternoon in Deepdale.
For us, the home fans, it ended in disappointment as Preston failed to take advantage of golden opportunities in the first half that would no doubt have continued the club’s unbeaten run and probable victory.
In my view, the additional quality in forward play that a squad costing multiple millions more than North End’s won out in the end.
Let’s be clear, we are boxing above our weight and the current players and coaching staff deserve a great deal of credit for finishing this New Year’s Day match only three points away from the last play-off spot.
The margins are fine, but we have no doubt failed to deliver enough high quality final balls into the front men and, when we do get them in, too many chances have not been taken.
From the comments of Alex Neil, this would appear to be his priority in the transfer window just opened and let’s hope he can be successful.
All of this was on show in one match as the visitors took the lead from a lovely free-kick into the box that was headed in by Daniel Ayala.
North End responded immediately, showing just what they can do, when the right ball was played in by Tom Barkhuizen for Callum Robinson to head home from close range.
Even better was to come five minutes before the break when another good cross, this time from Daniel Johnson, found Jordan Hugill to head Preston into the lead.
What a pity that Barkhuizen couldn’t put a clear-cut chance into the net as the half-time cuppa beckoned and instead hit the bar with the keeper stranded.
After the break the hosts did not dominate the same and it was Boro who looked more dangerous, their forward play becoming ever more threatening and leading to the two goals that took all three points back to Teesside.