North End came away from the Riverside Stadium with a point, but were unlucky not to make it all three after an excellent display against Middlesbrough.
Tom Barkhuizen went closest, his effort early in the first half tipped onto the post by the home goalkeeper and it wasn’t until the closing stages that Chris Maxwell was needed, denying Stewart Downing with what would have been a goal completely against the run of play.
Having made just one change from the side that overcame Reading the previous weekend, manager Alex Neil saw his side get off to a positive start on Teesside, with a Daniel Johnson corner at the near post falling kindly for that one man to come in – Alan Browne for Josh Harrop – only for former Manchester United full back Fabio to clear off his toes just a few yards out inside three minutes.
But the home side had an expensively assembled strike force and £15m man Britt Assombalonga looked powerful and pacy as he burst from the middle of the park through the North End backline, only for Chris Maxwell to smother well after a heavy touch from the former Nottingham Forest man.
A quarter of an hour in it was pace at the other end that brought the best chance of the first half, when Barkhuizen, in a right hand channel, burst past George Friend and drove into the box, before driving a shot towards the bottom right hand corner, only for the arm of Irish international keeper Darren Randolph to divert the effort onto the post.
It was end to end at this stage as up the other end a superb ball from Jonny Howson from the right touchline to a left hand channel sent Fabio bursting into the box. Once again Maxwell did well, narrowing the angle, forcing the full back wide, and he could only find the side-netting under pressure from Darnell Fisher.
Just before the break, with the sun beating down in the dockside-located stadium, two more great chances came the way of the Lilywhites. Barkhuizen had done well to win a free kick by the left corner flag and the No.29 delivered the cross to the back post when a header from skipper Paul Huntington forced a corner. From Daniel Johnson’s ball in from the right hand segment the keeper was again needed to claim at the feet of Josh Earl after the cross ricocheted into his path.
The second half started brightly again for the visitors with Browne holding off the attentions of Howson down the right to reverse a ball to Johnson 15 yards out, but the midfielder couldn’t get enough bend on the ball to force Randolph into another save.
Maguire was the next one to test the man in the Boro goal, collecting from Pearson 45 yards out and driving at the heart of the home defence, before unleashing from 20 yards, the keeper getting down low to his right to palm the ball behind for a corner.
From the ball in, Barkhuizen had a header cleared off the line with the goal line technology almost in use as it looked close to have crossed Randolph’s line when it was eventually cleared by the home side’s defender.
Chris Maxwell had very little to do during the game, but when called upon with eight minutes to do he made a fine save. The ball was worked from left to right by Garry Monk’s outfit with substitute Downing collecting and driving back onto his favoured left foot, but his powerful low effort to the North End stopper’s left was pushed away at full stretch by the No.22.
Into the final minute and the running didn’t stop from the away team as Hugill and Harrop combined on a counter as the No.10, on for the injured Ben Pearson, rushed into the box, only for Randolph to come out and smother the ball to safety.
Despite five minutes of added time a winner didn’t come, but nevertheless it was a very positive and pleasing performance for the fantastic vocal away following from Lancashire.
Middlesbrough line-up: Randolph, Fabio, Friend (Bamford, 55), Gibson (c), Clayton, Assombalonga, Howson, Fry, Christie, Baker (Downing, 68), Gestede. Subs not used: Dimi, Ayala, Leadbitter, Gletcher, Roberts.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Fisher, Earl, Pearson (Harrop, 70), Huntington (c), Davies, Barkhuizen (Mavididi, 75), Browne, Hugill, Johnson, Maguire (Robinson, 90). Subs not used: Hudson, Vermijl, Horgan, Spurr.
Attendance: 25,295 (961 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr D England