Preston North End 1 Middlesbrough 3: Boro show mettle with Lita leading the way

MIDDLESBROUGH have struggled on their travels this season but, despite going behind, won emphatically to send Preston into 2011 rooted to the bottom of the Championship.

Billy Jones headed the home side in front after 27 minutes.

However, Leroy Lita produced a superb run and finish to draw Boro level three minutes later before putting the visitors in front just before the hour mark.

David Wheater, who has been linked with a move away from Middlesbrough in the January transfer window, then capped a fine performance by heading a third soon after.

The victory was only Middlesbrough's second away from home this season and moved them one point clear of the relegation zone. Preston stay bottom of the table, five points behind Boro.

Preston led after Danny Pugh picked out Jones at the far post and he headed in from close range.

Middlesbrough had lost every game this season in which they have gone behind, but three minutes later, Lita embarked on a fine run from the halfway line which ended with him blasting an equaliser from the edge of the box.

Boro deservedly went in front on 59 minutes, Julio Arca sending a long ball over the Preston defence and Lita raced clear before finishing well past Andy Lonergan.

Two minutes later Gary O'Neil swung in a free-kick from the right and Wheater climbed highest to head home.

Preston North End: Lonergan, Jones, Morgan, Wayne Brown, De Laet, Tonge, Barton, Russell (Coutts 62), Pugh (Treacy 75), Parkin (Parry 85), King. Unused substitutes: Arestidou, Davidson, Nicholson, McLaughlin.

Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte, Bates, Wheater, Bennett, O'Neil, Thomson, Tavares (McMahon 87), Emnes (McDonald 72), Arca, Lita. Unused substitutes: Coyne, Boyd, Bailey, Kink, Hines.

Referee: C Pawson (South Yorkshire).