Preston missed out on a chance to climb into the Championship’s top two after Middlesbrough hit back to claim a 1-1 draw at the Riverside.
Boro, closer to the relegation zone than they are to the top six, were the better team for much of the game but couldn’t make the most of the chances they created.
And it was Preston, during their best spell of the first half, who opened the scoring when Josh Harrop tapped in from close range in the 40th minute.
The lead lasted less than two minutes because North End full-back Darnell Fisher could only turn Paddy McNair’s low cross inside his own net to level things up – and that was how it remained.
Having succumbed 4-1 to Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend, Boro head coach Jonathan Woodgate made four changes including a recall for Jonny Howson and Daniel Ayala plus chances for Marcus Browne and Marcus Tavernier.
Woodgate’s decisions looked like it would have the desired effect because for the majority of the opening period Boro resembled the team sitting higher in the Championship.
Marcus Browne had a drive stopped by the legs of Declan Rudd, while Britt Assombalonga couldn’t turn in a deep McNair cross that bounced off the back post and on to the striker.
Those two opportunities were the best either side had until Preston skipper Alan Browne’s header was cleared off the line by Adam Clayton, and two minutes later the visitors had the lead.
Browne was again involved. This time, after some strong work by Daniel Johnson, the midfielder’s deflected effort hit the inside of the post before rolling across goal for Harrop to tap in from close range.
The lead didn’t last long. McNair got to the by-line, he drilled a low cross into the six-yard box where Fisher could only turn into his own net with Assombalonga close to him.
Middlesbrough created the best two opening early at the start of the second half. Tavernier had them both. The first was a simple save and the second saw Rudd jump high to tip over a first time effort from the winger.
Woodgate felt Middlesbrough, who had chances in the second half to win it, could have secured three points to boost their lowly placing.
He said: “I was pleased with that display. To be honest I thought we deserved the win, we had a lot of the chances.
“I can’t remember a save Darren Randolph had to make, their keeper made a number of saves.
“I’m gutted to not get the three points but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m pleased with the performance and the reaction of the players.
“I thought there were a lot of good performances, Jonny Howson coming back from surgery; Marcus Tavernier and Marcus Browne were really good, Paddy McNair was outstanding, we need to build on that on Friday against Birmingham.
“We have to be solid at the minute. I’m not stupid, I know how football goes. I want to play in a certain way but sometimes you have to play a certain way and tweak things to get results when you need results.
“That’s what management is all about. You can’t always play the perfect game, you need to adjust and if things aren’t going too well you need to stop the rot.”
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Dijksteel, Ayala, Fry, Shotton, McNair, Clayton, Howson, Tavernier, Assombalonga (Fletcher 80), Browne (Johnson 80). Unused substitutes: Saville, Wing, Bola, Walker, Pears.
Preston North End: Rudd, Fisher, Bauer, Davies, Rafferty, Pearson, Johnson (Gallagher 81), Harrop (Nugent 56), Browne, Maguire, Barkhuizen (Potts 81). Unused substitutes: Storey, Ginnelly, Ledson, Ripley.
Referee: D England (South Yorkshire).