THIS AFTERNOON will see Alex Neil’s first trip to the Riverside Stadium as an opposing manager – but it will not stop Middlesbrough supporters wincing at the mention of his name.
The Preston chief went head to head with Boro in the Championship promotion race in 2014-15 during his time at previous club Norwich City – and despite the Teesside club doing the double over the Canaries, it was Neil and the Norfolk side who had the last laugh.
Neil – who had yet to be appointed when Norwich were routed 4-0 on Teesside in November 2014 – masterminded his side’s 2-0 Wembley play-off final triumph over Boro at the end of May 2015, comprehensively outwitting a fellow tactician in Aitor Karanka in the process.
Neil’s prowess at new club Preston has already led to some impressive early-season results against Sheffield Wednesday, Reading and Leeds United, with a Middlesbrough lad and boyhood Boro fan in Jordan Hugill earning plenty of plaudits for his displays up front in the process.
He is likely to come up against a couple of fellow Teessiders in the Boro defence today in the shape of Ben Gibson and Dael Fry, with the latter calling for the hosts, beaten last weekend at Nottingham Forest, to put things right against a side against whom he made his debut on the opening day of the 2015-16 season.
Twenty next week, Fry, who has stepped in impressively for Daniel Ayala in the heart of the back four in the early weeks of the season and has been rewarded with a call-up to the England Under-21s squad, said: “I made my debut against Preston and it would be nice if I could play again.
“We want to put things right. We are at home and want to make the home ground a fortress and also put our chances away.
“The back four need to do their job, and the front three ,and with the threat we have got, we are going to put goals away.”
On lining up alongside another local product in Gibson, he added: “I don’t think any fans would have thought that. It is nice for two home-grown lads and the fans have always been great.
“With me and Ben being from Middlesbrough, it is nice when you go out into the community and the fans are there and saying, ‘well done’ and how good you are doing, so it’s nice.”