BORO boss Tony Mowbray is urging in-form Andrew Taylor (pictured right) to pledge his future to the Teesside club.
The Hartlepool-born defender, recently back from an impressive half-season loan deal at Watford, made his first start at the Riverside since April last year.
That day, Boro were held to a 1-1 draw by Crystal Palace and the same result befell Mowbray’s team on Saturday.
With Taylor following up a fine display on the left side of midfield at Bristol City a week earlier, Boro were well on top against struggling Preston.
But they could only score once through Matthew Bates’s brilliant individual goal with 20 minutes to go.
And their inability to beat Andy Lonergan a second time – Leroy Lita missed from Taylor’s cross when it seemed impossible NOT to score – would come back to haunt Boro.
Billy Jones headed in an 88th-minute equaliser to boost new boss Phil Brown’s hopes of survival.
Despite being wasteful, Mowbray believed the “second half was as good as we have played since I came here” and marvelled again at the form of Taylor.
“My preference would be that Andrew signs a new long-term deal with us and gets on with his career here,” said Mowbray.
“He’s in the same situation as David Wheater, in that he’s only got six months of his contract left.
“Andrew’s been away at Watford and enjoyed his time there.
“He’s got decisions to make. I can only tell him my plans for him and see what he wants to do
“A player who has such a short period to run on his contract has all the power.
“I’d like him to stay but, as I say, he’s the one with choices to make.”
Boro, who won 3-1 at Deepdale on December 28, are showing signs of improvement under Mowbray.
And after gradually establishing a foothold on proceedings in this basement battle, striker Kris Boyd hit a shot from 18 yards which flashed just wide of the left-hand post.
The hosts threatened again moments later when Joe Bennett crossed dangerously and Gary O’Neil hit a left-foot shot which drew a fine block from Preston’s ex-Boro defender Sean St Ledger.
In the 33rd minute, Preston signalled their attacking intent when winger Paul Parry collected possession 20 yards from goal and hit a fierce shot which Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele tipped over the crossbar.
Moments later Lita tried his luck from the edge of the penalty area, but Leon Cort cleared the danger and the hosts went close again nine minutes before the break.
Bennett again provided the delivery from the wing and Tony McMahon fired goalwards from 18 yards with a fierce shot, but Craig Morgan blocked his effort.
Middlesbrough fashioned perhaps their best opening of the half in the 40th minute.
Nicky Bailey hit a right-footed shot from 35 yards which drew a fine parried save from Lonergan. The ball then fell to Lita 12 yards from goal, but Lonergan was again on hand to make a fine stop.
Boro sought to up the tempo after the restart, but sub Julio Arca rifled wide from 20 yards, McMahon fired wide from 18 yards and Taylor also missed the target from 25 yards.
Mowbray’s side began to increase the pressure and finally struck with 19 minutes remaining when Bates advanced forward from defence and hit a right-foot shot into the bottom left-hand corner from 18 yards.
It should have been two when Taylor picked out Lita in the box, but last week’s two-goal hero contrived to mess up the chance and Lonergran saved from point-blank range.
Yet Preston refused to lie down and Jones headed home a cross from Conor McLoughlin with two minutes remaining to salvage his side a point.
Middlesbrough: Steele, McMahon, Bates, Hines, Bennett, Robson (Arca 46), O’Neil, Bailey, Taylor, Boyd (Emnes 62), Lita. Subs Not Used: Ripley, Miller, Grounds, Smallwood, Park. Goals: Bates 71.
Preston: Lonergan, Jones, St. Ledger, Cort, Morgan, McLaughlin, Nicholson, Russell (Barton 74), Parry, Hume (Mayor 70), Hayes (Ellington 55). Subs Not Used: Arestidou, Wayne Brown, Douglas, Carter. Booked: McLaughlin, Mayor, Jones.
Goals: Jones 88.
Ref: Mick Russell (Hertfordshire).