• James Barker

Middlesbrough v Preston: The Breakdown build-up

Middlesbrough will look to put any lingering frustrations behind them on Tuesday night, as they welcome Preston North End to the Riverside.


Well if Chris Wilder didn’t know what he was in for at Middlesbrough prior to Saturday, he certainly does know. Welcome to Middlesbrough Chris!



I’m sure Neil Warnock and his doctor, as well as Mr. Langford, will have been relieved that he wasn’t in the dugout for that one. Although I’m sure the post-match interview would have been a belter.


The new Boro boss was able to keep a cool head however, and his players will need to carry that over to Tuesday night, as they look for their first league win in four games.


Chris Wilder is aiming to secure his first three points as Middlesbrough boss against Preston on Tuesday, and here’s everything you need to know ahead of it.


The Opposition


Preston North End


Nickname: The Lilywhites

Founded: 1880

Stadium: Deepdale

Current league position: 16th

Last season finish: 13th

Manager: Frankie McAvoy

Current Top Scorer: Emil Riis Jakobsen (7)

Fun fact: Preston’s home stadium, Deepdale, is the oldest continuously used football stadium in the world, and gets its name from the Deepdale Farm that the land on which the stadium sits was originally.


Preston appear to be one of those clubs that have found themselves in the position of having too much quality to be relegated, yet not quite enough to give themselves a chance for promotion in recent years. However finding security in a division is never something to be overlooked, it’s tough to accomplish.


I spoke with Football League World’s dedicated Preston North End journalist Ben Wignall on Sunday, and here’s what he had to say about his Preston team ahead of our clash this week: “It’s been tough watching PNE at times this season. For the most part it has been direct football, even though we have the players to play a more expansive game.


“Frankie McAvoy - Alex Neil’s assistant - took over as permanent head coach after getting five wins in eight matches at the back end of last season, but as we look at it now, we are 16th which is not where we expect to be.”


In response to asking about some of the players we should watch out for, Ben stated: “We clearly missed Ben Whiteman yesterday (Saturday) who was suspended. He’s scored four times this season, providing the goal threat from midfield that we expected him to show. In truth, when they’re all on top form, we have a fantastic array of midfield talent.


“Ryan Ledson was our Player of the Year last season, but hasn’t shown his best yet in this campaign. Ali McCann is a highly-rated Northern Ireland international who I think is destined for big things on his early showings, and Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson have both scored goals at this level and are in their peak years.”


Speaking on the Lilywhites’ defence, Ben said: “Defensively at times we’ve been really solid, and it’s coincided with Patrick Bauer recovering from an Achilles problem. He’s got Andrew Hughes one side of him who has been surprisingly really solid (converted from Left-back), whilst Liverpool loanee Sepp van den Berg is on the other side, and whilst he can get bullied by the more physical strikers - which makes me hope Uche Ikpeazu isn’t playing - he’s good on the ball and can snuff out danger well.”


Finishing with his thoughts on North Ends’ forwards, Ben stated: “We do have issues up front as aside from Emil Riss’ 11 goals this season (all comps), where are they coming from? Sean Maguire doesn’t score, Scott Sinclair doesn’t seem to be up to it this season, Ched Evans is injured still and Josh Murphy is also on the sidelines.


“We play Emil Riis and Sean Maguire as a front two, but despite being the bigger man, it’s Riis who is normally the one trying to get behind the defence. Maguire despite being just 5’9” is the hold-up striker who links things up, but against the bigger defenders he can struggle if we persist with going direct.


“We played well in the first half and were all over the Bluebirds (Cardiff City), but it was a complete contrast in the second half. We couldn’t get on the ball or create chances and lost to two set pieces, so we are coming into this match with little confidence and a lot of frustration building.”



The Form Book


Middlesbrough (Last six: DDLLWW)


Middlesbrough 1-1 Millwall

West Brom 1-1 Middlesbrough

Luton Town 3-1 Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 0-2 Birmingham City

Cardiff City 0-2 Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 2-0 Barnsley


Preston (Last six: LLWWLL)


Preston 1-2 Cardiff City

Nottingham Forest 3-0 Preston

Bournemouth 1-2 Preston

Preston 2-0 Luton Town

Preston 0-2 Liverpool (Carabao Cup)

Blackpool 2-0 Preston


Head-to-head record


Matches played - 68

Wins - Middlesbrough 30-21 Preston

Draws - 17

Goals - Middlesbrough 100-94 Preston

Points - Middlesbrough 107-80 Preston


Last Meeting


https://youtu.be/2tc5vYgoe7k


Last six:


Middlesbrough 2-0 Preston - March 16, 2021

Preston 3-0 Middlesbrough - December 9, 2020

Preston 0-2 Middlesbrough - January 1, 2020

Middlesbrough 1-1 Preston - October 1, 2019

Middlesbrough 1-2 Preston - March 13, 2019

Preston 1-1 Middlesbrough - November 27, 2018



League Statistics


Middlesbrough:

14th, won 6, drawn 5, lost 7

Goals scored 20, goals conceded 20

Clean sheets 6

Points 23


Preston:

16th, won 5, drawn 6, lost 7

Goals scored 19, goals conceded 24

Clean sheets 5

Points 21


Team News


Boro boss Chris Wilder has inherited a squad that is as depleted and as stretched thin as you could hope to find in English football. Andraz Sporar came into Saturday’s game nursing an injury that he picked up whilst on international duty last week, but Wilder remains hopeful that his ankle injury isn’t serious, saying: “I don’t think it’s major. He just rolled his ankle. And to be fair to him he wanted to stay on for the period up to half-time. But his ankle’s all swollen up. So I’ve got to make that decision at half-time.”


Both Grant Hall and Martin Payero were not fit enough to play a part at the weekend, and speaking on the pair, Wilder stated: “Martin has got an issue with his Achilles heel so we haven’t been able to have him on the grass.


“Grant Hall has had a bit of an issue with his hamstring. He came back and played at West Brom but felt it and as a result wasn’t available.”


It appears that for all three, Tuesday night’s clash with Preston may come too soon, and Wilder appeared to hint at this in his post-match interview, stating: “We walk into Preston on Tuesday night and it will be similar to today where we have to have some young kids and it will be about trying to balance things against a strong Championship group.”


As for Preston, manager Frankie McAvoy has had to contend with some frustrating injuries, predominantly with his forwards, as Ched Evans, Matthew Olosunde, Alan Browne and Sean Maguire have all picked up niggling injuries this season.


The Lilywhites boss did provide a promising injury update in the build-up to their weekend’s home defeat to Cardiff City, revealing last Thursday that: “Matthew Olosunde played an hour in midweek with the reserves squad so he’ll be hopefully in contention.


“Ched (Evans) is back in training, he’ll be involved today as well so we’re starting to get everybody back slowly but surely, and we’ll see how they go the next couple of days.” Intriguingly however, neither Olosunde or Evans were even part of Preston’s matchday squad at the weekend, so it remains to be seen whether they will be fit for Tuesday.


Two that definitely won’t be featuring on Tuesday are Connor Wickham and Josh Murphy, as it is believed that their injuries will sideline both forwards until the new year. However star central-midfielder Ben Whiteman is expected to return to the starting XI after serving his one match suspension after picking up five yellow cards.


Managers Thoughts


With his Middlesbrough tenure opening with a frustrating draw, a humbled Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder said: “First and foremost I’d like to thank the supporters. It was quite humbling. Been 20 months out of it without supporters for me. The reception right the way through, even the week and going into today and before the game, the supporters there early, the reception we got was a humbling experience.


“Then it’s game on. I’m a bit disappointed with the result but the performance was okay. We ran out of a bit of energy second half.


“But the attitude was there. The players have had an incredible amount of information chucked at them in a short period of time. They tried to take it on board and there are certain bits and pieces that they will get better with. But it’s a good starting base.”


Then came his thoughts on the afternoon’s biggest talking point. An elbow to the face of Paddy McNair - as blatant as they come - should have meant The Lions going down to 10 men and of course the equaliser never happening. Speaking on the incident, a frustrated Wilder said: “We’ve recovered quite well off the back of that - there are three things that have gone against us. The initial foul on Watmore, the foul on McNair and then the ricochet.


“Regarding the first one, the linesman’s got the best view in the house. He says that there is contact. I understand there is more contact in the Championship and I thought it was a competitive game. Tackles and people going up in the air challenging, I’m all for that.


“I don’t think that’s the major one, though - the second one is. McNair doesn’t go down (referring to him not being that sort of player). Why does he go down? He goes down because he gets forearm-smashed right across the face. Whether it’s accidental or deliberate, it’s a foul.


“I did think there was a bit of a pin in the balloon after the equaliser because we we’re really on top, we were dominating the game, we were creating chances and it quite easily could have been two.”


Speaking after his sides 2-1 defeat on Saturday, a disappointed, and indeed under-fire Preston boss Frankie McAvoy said: “It’s one of total, bitter disappointment to be honest.


“I thought we started really well, got a goal early from a set play, and we looked in good fettle, I felt we looked a threat and the only thing we really had to deal with from Cardiff in the first half was dealing with long throws and corner kicks, which is their forte, they’re very, very good at that to be fair to them.


"We just needed to try to get that second goal in the second half. They’ve made one change and brought James Collins on, they started to put things very direct, very forward and in and about our areas and put us under a bit of pressure. We aren’t strong enough to try to stand up to that.”


Looking ahead to his sides clash with Middlesbrough, a resillient McAvoy expressed: “We’ll do the same as we always do, dust ourselves down after this one, which is bitterly disappointing losing, particularly at home.


“We’ll look at the game tomorrow and go through it, bits we think we could have done better in, and then get ourselves prepared as best as we can for Middlesbrough on Tuesday night.”



Predicted Line-ups


Middlesbrough (3-5-2): GK: Joe Lumley DEF: Paddy McNair, Sol Bamba, Lee Peltier

MID: Isaiah Jones, Jonny Howson (C), Marcus Tavernier, Matt Crooks, Marc Bola ATT: Duncan Watmore, Josh Coburn


Preston (3-4-1-2): GK: Daniel Iversen DEF: Sepp van den Berg, Patrick Bauer, Andrew Hughes MID: Tom Barkhuizen, Ben Whiteman, Alistair McCann, Scott Sinclair, Alan Browne (C) ATT: Sean Maguire, Emil Riis Jakobsen


Match Prediction


Club football is back again. Oh how I’ve missed being left utterly bewildered as to how Middlesbrough - who are seemingly running a competition as to how to find the most inventive ways to drop points - manage to keep on being so consistently bonkers.


I can only hope that Mr. Langford has put a Specsavers gift voucher on his Christmas list because my word, you throw elbows like that in the Empire on a Saturday night and you’re spending the evening in one of Her Majesty’s hotels.


However, Boro should not of been - and indeed should know better than - relying on the officials to secure the three points, they squandered multiple chances over the duration of the game, and should of put three or four past a charitable Millwall defence.


But this is Middlesbrough, and we’re not in to this killing off teams malarkey, now where is the fun in that? A win over Preston North End on Tuesday will only increase the volume of those calling for a managerial axing in the Lilywhites’ dugout though, as Frankie McAvoy departed the Deepdale turf on Saturday to a soundtrack of boos, as unrest grows in their portion of Lancashire.


Preston have only picked up one win from nine games on their travels in the Championship this season, yet this was against high-flying Bournemouth.


Only six teams have scored less goals than Preston’s 19 this season (Millwall, Birmingham, Hull, Peterborough, Barnsley and Derby), with a reliable source of goals outside of Emil Riis Jakobsen yet to be discovered.


Preston have also conceded five goals in their previous two league fixtures, but only one of those goals came from open play. This suggests that set-pieces may prove to be Boro’s best chance to unlock the Lilywhites’ door.


What I don’t see is Preston coming into the Riverside and turning over Middlesbrough. The question for me is whether Boro can find enough quality to earn three points, or will they be frustrated like they were at the weekend?


The fitness of Andraz Sporar may go a long way to answering that question, as although goals haven’t began to flow for the Slovenian international yet, his touch, movement, link-up play and technique looks top class. I think him, Tavernier, Payero, McNair and Crooks could become the biggest beneficiaries of Wilder’s high-intensity and positive style of play.


However, I’ve just got that feeling that Tuesday night will go down as the game that saw Chris Wilder pick up his first three points as Middlesbrough manager, and he’ll be desperate to do so, not only after Saturday’s frustrations, but to keep pace with the top six.


Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-0 Preston North End

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