Boro See Red and Crash
By Robert Nichols
Thursday 14 Mar 2019 11:06:00
Browse all Match Reviews articles


Boro crashed to a second home defeat inside a week and once again it was made even worse by the fact we had taken an early lead. In fact we were well in control right up to the point when a highly controversial red card changed the whole course of the night. Ayala's red card and the subsequent free kick goal, double punishment led to Preston seizing control but even then the winner involved a looping deflection. A sickening result that has rocked Boro's play off hopes.

Boro looked well in control last night. Besic, playing his best game in some time, sped forward and passed to Ashley Fletcher whose deflected shot found the corner of the net. Yet for the second time in as many games the big striker was to end up on the losing side in a game that we had in our grasp.

Missed chances cost us dear. Mikel was desperately unlucky that his shot against the inside of the post ricocheted to safety and didn't at least bounce back into the net off the goalkeeper. Howson was unlucky that his left foot effort was clawed away by the keeper. And Ayala did well to head on to the post from a tight angle.

And there were more chances, far more as Preston looked edgy, almost as if they were suddenly feeling the pressure of the ten match unbeaten run. Britt should have passed to Fletcher when he carved out a chance for himself instead. Flint headed over from close range and Howson got it all wrong with the goal at his mercy.

That chance would cost us dear as a few minutes later the midfielder gifted the ball to Preston and last man Daniel Ayala steamed in to clear up. The crowd were up on their feet applauding the tackle when referee Stead shocked everyone by not only awarding a free kick but brandishing the red card. Opinions are divided after the match but I think we see many similar tackles in many games where a free kick is not awarded never mind a red card. Was it reckless and out of control? I am really not so sure. I think it was very, very harsh indeed. And extremely important.

One thing is for sure that instant could have turned the season. Paul Gallagher struck a brilliant free kick to equalise the game. Just as against Blackburn at home Boro had seen a red card and free kick and been punished by a perfect free kick goal. But this time we found the opposition far harder to hit back against.

Preston began to play the ball around, with Johnson and Pearson taking control and forcing Boro's 10 men to race around covering the wide green spaces of the pitch. In saying that Boro's defences looked sound with Flint making a strong comeback and Shotton, Friend and incoming Fry all defending resolutely. Everyone showed discipline.

It did look as if the referee missed a clear penalty when a Preston man went over Friend's leg but Boro seemed to be holding out until.. a shot looped up in the air and substitute Stockley (on or Gallagher) was first to react and headed home past Randolph.

Boro brought on former North End hitman, Hugill and then Tavernier but couldn't break down Preston to create another clear chance. We looked shell shocked. Our best opportunity to get back on level terms was probably Besic's run into the box but he chose to try and nutmeg his defender to slip Britt in rather than go for goal himself. The wrong choice.

So, it has been a disastrous few days and now we have it all to do away at Villa, inspired by the returning Jack Grealish they are gunning for the play offs. Villa Park is where our season came to a full stop last May. If we could pull out a result there then that would fire everyone up again. It is a very big ask but that is what it takes to get promotion.

Middlesbrough 1-2 Preston North End – goals Fletcher (Boro), Gallagher, Stockley (Preston)

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