Preston 0 Middlesbrough 0: Boro held at Deepdale

Aitor Karanka admitted Preston produced a better performance than his Middlesbrough side as the pre-season favourites for promotion started in underwhelming fashion.

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.

Boro were in action for the first time since a Sky Bet Championship play-off final defeat to Norwich three months ago and were held to a 0-0 stalemate by newly-promoted North End at Deepdale.

Despite being able to boast returning midfielder Stewart Downing in their ranks, the visitors failed to find the target with any of their seven attempts and lacked the cutting edge which former loanee Patrick Bamford gave them so often last term.

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“I said before the game we would be making a big mistake if we think every game will be easy,” said Karanka. “They played very well and were very well organised defensively, and they wanted the ball more than us so we have to improve. I am not making excuses. I have a squad that I imagine is better than theirs and they played better than us.

“They were very well organised and we couldn’t play in our way.”

Boro’s lack of attacking thrust suggested their Spanish manager, who this week penned a new four-year contract at the Riverside, may need another forward if their top-flight dream is to be realised.

The Teesside outfit have already had one bid rejected for Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes after his 21-goal campaign in

2014-15 and Karanka conceded he remains in the hunt for a striker.

“Jordan Rhodes is one player who scores goals but we have other alternatives,” he declared.

Preston: Pickford, Vermijl (Humphrey 78), Clarke, Huntington, Wright, Cunningham, Johnson, Welsh, Gallagher, Garner, Keane (Hugill 84). Unused substitutes: Kilkenny, Woods, Browne, Brownhill, James.

Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Kalas, Ayala, Fry, Friend, Clayton, Leadbitter (Forshaw 88), Adomah, Downing, Reach (Fabbrini 60), Garcia (Stuani 77). Unused substitutes: Carayol, Mejias, Stephens, Nsue.

Referee: C Kavanagh (Lancashire).