Preston 2 Middlesbrough 3: Deepdale comeback gives Pulis hope for promotion surge

Boro scorer Jonny Howson
Boro scorer Jonny Howson

Tony Pulis has set his sights on a return to the Premier League after seeing Middlesbrough come from behind to win at Preston.

The hosts led at half-time after goals from Callum Robinson and Jordan Hugill cancelled out Daniel Ayala’s opener yesterday.

But Jonny Howson’s fine strike, and Ayala’s second goal, saw Boro pick up three big Championship points.

New boss Pulis could not have asked for a more promising start to 2018.

“We scored a first goal and then without (us) touching the ball (again) they equalised and that knocked us,” he said.

“I was pleased to come in 2-1 down at half-time. I thought Preston were really very good, first half.

“We sat off them and allowed them to play.

“We showed a lot of character second half which was very encouraging.

“I don’t know the players that well so it will take me a while to know what I have got and what I haven’t got.

“This league is all about turning up every week. If you don’t do that you have absolutely no chance. I will be doing my best to get this club back into the Premier League as soon as possible.”

Boro struck after 13 minutes as Ayala powered in a header from 12 yards from Stewart Downing’s free-kick.

But Preston were back on level terms almost immediately. Tom Barkhuizen delivered a cross to the far post, where Robinson headed past Darren Randolph.

Randolph got down low to deny Hugill after 26 minutes, then produced an excellent save to deny Robinson, getting fingertips to a curling strike from 20 yards that was destined for the top corner.

Preston went 2-1 up, though, Daniel Johnson picked out Hugill with a right-wing cross and his six-yard header deflected off Ayala, leaving Randolph stranded.

Boro equalised on 65 minutes, Howson showing clever feet on the edge of the area before curling a right-footed effort into the top corner.

Ayala then doubled his tally on 73 minutes when Preston were caught out by a short corner and Adama Traore’s cross eventually found the centre-back, at the far post, to nod in from four yards.

Preston boss Alex Neil said: “I don’t even think a draw would have been a fair result, I thought we deserved to win the game.

“We had a lot of chances and deservedly had the lead going into half-time. The simple fact is at this level, the difference can be clearing your lines and taking your chances when they come along.”

“I have a mixture of emotions because it’s so difficult to be disappointed with my players. But I am disappointed with some of the goals we’ve conceded and I know the players are disappointed as well.

“The biggest frustration is the kind of goals that we’ve lost. I am frustrated for the players because I thought they did more than enough to take the three points.

“We were beaten by minor decisions that we didn’t really do well enough at certain times in the game.”

Preston North End: Maxwell, Clarke, Huntington, Davies, Woods, Johnson (Gallagher 78), Pearson, Barkhuizen (Horgan 78), Harrop, Robinson, Hugill. Subs not used: Rudd, Cunningham, Browne, Welsh, O’Connor. Booked: Johnson, Harrop. Goals: Robinson 14, Hugill 40.

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Christie (Shotton 59), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Howson, Leadbitter, Guedioura (Bamford 50), Downing, Assombalonga (Gestede 50), Traore. Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Fletcher, Johnson, Baker. Booked: Christie, Friend, Gestede, Randolph. Goals: Ayala 13 & 73, Howson 65

Att: 15,101

Ref: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).