Belated luck for Middlesbrough as they overcome ten-man Preston
In the here and now, Boro were concerning themselves with staying in the race to go up and their season not ebbing away.
Ahead of last weekend's game with Stoke City, Neil Warnock spoke of a 'hit and miss' week ahead of the international break, indicating that the next three games would decide whether they still have a possibility of gatecrashing the top-six when the action resumed in early April.
Two successive home victories against sides who beat them earlier this season - the latest being this 2-0 win over Preston - suggest that they still have a sniff, just about. You need a bit of luck at this time of year as well.
Warnock regularly signs off his programme notes with the line ‘be lucky’. After a season in which a number of hugely controversial calls have gone against his side, most notably in their games against Swansea and Blackburn in particular - while they have seen two sending-offs also rescinded - he will have felt with some justification that his side merited some.
Here, fortune finally went their way here in two big first-half moments.
The first saw Boro handed a slice of luck quite literally when Jordan Storey, under no pressure whatsoever, horribly saw his clearance fly past the helpless Daniel Iversen into his own net following Yannick Bolaise’s routine left-wing cross.
It had been an opening 22 minutes with Preston which hitherto dominated after showing a positive reaction to their wretched weekend performance at Wycombe with Ched Evans and Brad Potts posting danger in the final third in particular.
But the game turned massively in Boro’s favour 13 minutes later when Alan Browne received the third red card of his career after kicking out at Sam Morsy after a set-to in midfield.
Preston - and certainly Browne - were incensed that Morsy escaped punishment after appearing to catch his rival with an elbow in the build-up and replays showed that they had a point. An incensed Alex Neil was later dismissed and sent to the stands for his protestations after the half-time whistle.
A wise manager who has seen everything which football has had to offer over many years, Warnock sensibly brought off Morsy probably for both his and the team’s sake at the break, no doubt mindful that the numbers could easily be evened up if he was involved in another flash-point.
The player who replaced Morsy in the fit-again Marcus Tavernier made the game safe early in the second half after staying alert to net the rebound after Chuba Akpom's drive shuddered the woodwork.
With Boro's strikers having not exactly walked the walk this term, plenty of onus will be on their wingers if they are not sneak into the play-offs.
In that respect, the input of Tavernier, Bolaise and Neeskens Kebano provided hope.
By contrast, It was not a night for Preston, their under-fire manager Neil or Storey. Moments after his faux pas, he saw his point-blank header saved by Marcus Bettinelli with Scott Sinclair’s rebound ruled out for office.
The North End defender also headed a good opportunity over with the last action of a first half, which also saw Sepp van den Berg rattle the crossbar with an angled drive.
The game was effectively over when moments after Iversen made a brilliant close-range save to deny Paddy McNair, he was beaten by Tavernier's rebound.
The one downer on the night was McNair's second-half substitution with a knee injury, a potential worry for Warnock.
Ex-Rotherham United loanee Iversen saved with his legs to prevent Kebano from adding a third and Marvin Johnson went close, but two was plenty against ten men.
Middlesbrough: Bettinelli; Fisher, Hall, Fry, Bola; Howson; Kebano (Mendez-Laing 83), Morsy (Tavernier 45), McNair (Saville 62); Bolaise (M Johnson 62); Akpom (Fletcher 63). Substitutes unused: Archer, Spence, Coulson, Watmore.
Preston: Iversen, van den Berg, Storey, Lindsay (Rafferty 78), Hughes; Gallagher (D Johnson 55), Browne; Barkhuizen (Riis 55), Potts; Sinclair (Molumby 45); Evans (Whiteman 68). Substitutes unused: Ripley, Huntington, Gordon, Maguire.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).