Preston North End had to settle for a point against high-flying Middlesbrough despite a fantastic performance from the Lilywhites.
Alan Browne had given the home side a deserved lead at Deepdale just before half-time, with an arrowed finish from Brandon Barker’s pass, but substitute Marcus Tavernier grabbed the Teesiders a point with their only shot on target inside the second half’s first minute.
Manager Alex Neil had made two enforced changes and one further change, Barker and Jordan Storey coming in for the injured Callum Robinson and Ben Davies, whilst Louis Moult also came in for Lukas Nmecha in attack.
Recent home games had seen the Lilywhites come out the blocks very quickly and they had the chance to do the same against Tony Pulis’ side.
Less than 70 seconds into the game Moult sent Barker away down the left-hand side in a swift counter-attack, the No.21 bursting into the box, only for Boro midfielder Lewis Wing to get back to make a last-ditch recovery tackle to deny an early opener.
And another gilt-edged chance came on the quarter hour mark as North End hit the post through Tom Barkhuizen after a well worked corner involving Paul Gallagher, Barker and Ben Pearson, with Moult flicking the ball on and Barkhuizen’s shot firing against the inside of the upright from close range, the Hawkeye system showing the ball was only half over the line.
Moments later and Moult fired straight at Darren Randolph after he and Browne had burst through the middle, Browne taking it and then sliding it left to the striker, whose shot was straight at the Republic of Ireland international stopper.
Just before the half hour mark there was a change for the visitors as North End were dominating their 3-5-2, switching to a 4-3-3 with Marcus Tavernier replacing Rudy Gestede, who seemed to have picked up an injury.
And whilst that stemmed the tide for 15 minutes, just two minutes before the interval the opener came as Browne fired home with superb piece of movement and first-time shot in the box.
The move started with Moult in the middle of the pitch, who laid off the ball for Browne, who in turn sent Barker out on the left and then carried on his run. The Manchester City loanee drove back in and played the ball across to the Irishman just inside the centre of the penalty area, and the No.8 made a superb side step in the box to bypass Danny Batth and fired it into the bottom left hand corner for his sixth goal of the season.
Another change at the break for Pulis saw Danish international frontman Martin Braithwaite replace Daniel Ayala and the division’s second placed team made an immediate riposte as earlier substitute Tavernier broke down the right-hand side, drove into the box and poked the ball under Declan Rudd from ten yards out, just 55 seconds into the latter period to level the game.
As the game became stretched, with both sides looking to win it, it was nerve-tingling, with Storey almost putting his name in the record books as he found some space in the box after a flurry of corners and recycled balls from the Lilywhites, he and skipper Tom Clarke combined at the back post, but he was unable to keep his vicious shot down from close range and despite a superb display, they had to take a point.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Clarke (c), Earl, Pearson, Huntington, Storey, Barkhuizen, Gallagher, Moult (Nmecha, 73), Browne, Barker. Subs not used: Maxwell, Fisher, Woods, Hughes, Ledson, Barker.
Middlesbrough line-up: Randolph, Friend (c), Ayala (Braithwaite, 46), Batth, Clayton, Hugill, Fry, Saville, Flint, Wing (Howson, 49), Gestede (Tavernier, 27). Subs not used: Lonergan, Assombalonga, McNair, Fletcher.
Attendance: 10,990 (971 Middlesbrough fans)
Referee: Mr P Bankes