Boro Bounce Back in New Year Stunner
By Robert Nichols
Tuesday 02 Jan 2018 10:57:00
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For the second successive away match Boro fought back from going behind to secure a memorable victory. This time, new manager Tony Pulis showed the wisdom of his experience by timely changes to personnel and formation to plot a route back from defeat to a stunning win. It was a comeback win that made it a very Happy New Year for Boro fans celebrating in Preston.

Preston North End always represented difficult opponents for this New Year’s Day fixture. In their last game they had inflicted a defeat in the Principality over high flying Cardiff. Alex Neil’s Lilywhites, always difficult to beat on their own patch, were now signalling their intent to challenge at the very top end of the Championship pack.

Deepdale looked dramatic yesterday with its four white corner floodlight pylons thrusting skywards through the driving rain. A much changed and now modern stadium of four stands it still occupies the site of the ground where Preston North End dominated the early years of the Football League, doing an Arsenal or Man City as the Invincibles of Victorian football.

Boro were still smarting from defeat in Tony Pulis first footing v Aston Villa but showed a positive reaction by racing out of the blocks. There were plenty of changes again in the team, Cyrus Christie was back in at right back, Adama Traore provided fresh fast legs to run against possibly players tired from the festive fixtures. Then for the big shock, the return of the forgotten man, Adlene Guédioura.

There was a big away following as always, the numbers swelled by many young faces attracted by a very welcome cheaper ticket for young concessions. The younger fans are always very welcome, the future of our support but I hope those responsible for letting off the flare in the crowded Boro concourse are not part of that future. What an idiotic and totally irresponsible thing to do.

Incidentally, the Boro has already been served with a warning over pyrotechnics at the Riverside and further incidents could lead to a fine or even a drastic sanction like closure of part of the ground is not outside the realms of possibility.

Anyway, on with the real show and Boro attacked Preston from the start. Traore was fouled, while attacking down the left. It would not be the last foul inflicted on him. Downing fired over a superb centre and Dani Ayala rose at the back post to power a header into the corner.

Boro fans were still celebrating as the home team attacked and a cross from their right was converted at the back post to equalise. We had been well and truly caught napping, not totally switched on after the Boro goal.

From that moment the pendulum swung in the direction of the home team. Their no.11 Daniel Johnson seized control of the midfield; their attack pulled our defence this way and that. Suddenly we looked all at sea and we could hardly put a pass or foot right.

Darren Randolph kept us in the game with a string of brilliant saves and then the cross bar came to our rescue. A second Preston goal had to come but when it did it was a comedy of errors, but Boro fans were not laughing. There was also an element of good fortune the way the Preston header deflected back in the opposite direction past a stranded Randolph. But there was no luck in the way we gifted them the ball and then couldn’t get anywhere near their players in the build-up.

Thank goodness for the half time whistle. Saved by the bell. Although Boro players were not saved from loud boos from the Bill Shankly away end.

Respite and this was the time when Tony Pulis went to work and showed the experience and know how gained from over 1000 games of management. Initially after the break Boro made no changes, although the team instantly took back the initiative. But having assessed that the players on the pitch were not going to change things Pulis was decisive. After just 5 minutes of the second half Guédioura and Assombalonga were removed and on came Gestede and Bamford. Britt has been running on empty for a few games now and was totally unable to compete holding the ball up as a target man in this game. Guédioura has been out for so long it was really asking a lot for him to hit the ground running and be fully up to speed. I will say this in their defence.

Nine minutes later long throw Shotton would replace the badly misfiring Christie. Just as significantly though Pulis moved Downing to play maker in chief in the centre, Bamford went wide left and Traore came over to his favoured right side. Almost immediately we started to threaten and create.

Once again Traore was felled and fouled in the build-up. As Boro quickly moved the ball forward we had a riving target in Gestede now causing mayhem by his skilled placement of lay offs after winning the ball. But full praise has to be heaped on Jonny Howson for the sweetest of right foot shots into the top corner of the goal. Just as at Hillsborough, Howson had hit the back of the net right in front of the away end. What a goal.

Now it was really game on. Johnson was booked for a real hack on Traore and suddenly he lost his bite, dominance and drive in midfield. Boro were bulldozing the home side now. Their fans were silenced as our crowd roared on wave after wave of Boro attacks. They couldn’t get near Rudy Gestede in the air, Traore was too fast and powerful down the right, Bamford a threat from the left and Stewy Downing was picking them apart with his precision passing and strong running.

The third goal was a short corner to Traore whose centre maybe got the faintest of glances off Gibson before being planted in the net by a spectacular diving header from Dani Ayala at the back post. Two goal Dani! Boro fans and players went wild with delight. What a comeback. Something we are now making a habit of.

Boro held on to that winning margin through the final 15 minutes and there big, joyous celebrations at the end. We had looked hapless in the first 45 minutes, clinging on for dear life. But Pulis showed his abilities and put one over on our old Wembley nemesis, Alex Neil. It was a real thriller of a game, with goals aplenty, so another concern about Pulis answered there and then.

It really is a Happy New Year now for Boro and in that second half display we saw the seeds of new beginnings and there is hope that 2018 could be a whole lot better than 2017. It is always a good feeling winning away, and we have done it twice in a row. The hard way! If you count Sheff Wed then we have won three times over the festive period.

So it is good riddance to bad years, onwards and upwards for Tony Pulis Boro in the New Year. Come On Boro and Up The Boro

Preston North End 2-3 Middlesbrough – Ayala (2), Howson.

Preston win

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