IT was against this evening’s opponents that Tony Pulis secured his first victory as Middlesbrough manager on New Year’s Day 2018.
A repeat against an in-form Preston North End side tonight would be equally as welcome for the Welshman.
Having harboured outside hopes of embarking upon a late push for the top two a few weeks ago, Boro are now minding the gap beneath them with the forthcoming games exposing that risk.
After facing Preston, who are unbeaten in the Championship since January 1 and have the distinct look of play-off dark horses, the Teesside club must then visit bogey side Aston Villa – another team who hold top-six aspirations – at the weekend.
Following that appointment at Villa Park, Boro face similar testing assignments with Norwich City and Bristol City, with the crux of the club’s season appearing to be approaching.
Preston head into tonight’s game on the back of a five-match winning sequence – their best at this level since 1950-51 – and represent dangerous opponents for Boro, who have won just once in the league on home soil in 2019.
They also have, in Alex Neil, a figure who dashed Boro’s promotion hopes in the Championship play-off final while in charge of Norwich, in May 2015, and they head to Teesside with major momentum.
But Neil warned: “It is going to be tough. I have seen Middlesbrough play in different ways.
“I have seen them play when they have been really aggressive and have seen other games where they have scored a goal and been a bit more defensive.”
Last six games: Middlesbrough DLWWDL Preston WWDWDW.
Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).
Last game: Middlesbrough 0 Preston 0; August 26, 2017; Championship.