Middlesbrough verdict: Why Alex Neil was frustrated with referee Oliver Langford as Boro benefit from Alan Browne red card against Preston
Middlesbrough haven’t had much luck when it comes to big refereeing decisions this season.
That disallowed goal at Swansea immediately springs to mind, as well as the horrific tackle on Dael Fry against Blackburn.
Boro’s two red cards this campaign have also been overturned after Sam Morsy and Paddy McNair were wrongfully sent off, yet this time it was the Teessiders’ opponents who were reduced to 10 men.
A 2-0 win over Preston means Neil Warnock’s still have an outside chance of finishing in the play-off places, courtesy of a Jordan Story own goal and Marcus Tavernier header.
The win was made easier after Preston captain Alan Browne was dismissed for a scuffle with Morsy nine minutes before half-time.
Boro made their advantage count.
The hosts didn’t have it all their own way at the Riverside, as Preston dominated possession in the first half.
A neat passing move from the visitors ended with right-back Sepp van den Berg hitting the crossbar with a crisp strike on 12 minutes, yet it was Boro who took the lead.
Yannick Bolasie was a lively presence and his cross from the left was sliced into his own net by Storey.
Preston continued to threaten but the momentum shifted when Browne was sent off. The decision looked extremely harsh after Morsy appeared to swing an elbow at Browne first.
It took place right in front of the Preston bench, and when protesting at half-time, North End boss Alex Neil was also sent off.
That proved a decisive moment, especially when Tavernier, who came off the bench at half-time, made it two, reacting first to head home after Chuba Akpom’s shot rebounded off the crossbar.
From there, it was a comfortable evening for the Teessiders.
After switching to a 4-3-3 system during the first half against Stoke last time out, Warnock stuck with the same system his side finished with against the Potters.
The only change saw Darnell Fisher replace Djed Spence at right-back, with Paddy McNair staying in midfield alongside Sam Morsy and the slightly deeper Jonny Howson.
Preston operated in their accustomed 4-2-3-1 formation, and it was the visitors who managed to impose themselves in the first half.
With midfielders Browne and Gallagher moving the ball effectively and full-backs van den Berg and Andrew Hughes taking up advanced positions, Boro struggled to break out of their own half before the interval.
That changed when Browe was dismissed, as the visitors were left with a 4-4-1 system with striker Ched Evans isolated up front.
After taking a 2-0 lead, at times it felt like a training exercise for the hosts.
Bolasie’s quality in the final third helped Boro take the lead despite Preston’s bright start.
The Teessiders have lacked that creativity and a player who can run at defenders but the Everton loanee has given them another dimension.
Neeskens Kebano also showed his class while Grant Hall was rock solid at the back once again.
Boro will now look to make it three consecutive wins when they travel to Millwall this weekend.
The Teessiders have moved to within five points of the play-offs with this result, yet that gap could widen again when Reading and Barnsley play on Wednesday.