For our latest pre-match preview with a former player of both clubs, we caught up with not only a former player, but also coach, assistant manager and manager of the Lilywhites.
Former goalkeeper Kelham O’Hanlon has more reason than most to have an eye on Wednesday night’s game, even if he is now living in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA.
Speaking to iFollow PNE from the other side of the Atlantic, he was thoroughly looking forward to the game between the town and club he grew up supporting and one that became very special to him.
“Middlesbrough are my boyhood club,” he explained. “I used to stand on the terraces as a young boy and I was incredibly fortunate to end up playing for them, which is one of the highlights of my life. It has a special place in my heart.
“A lot of my family are still living there. It is a fantastic club. Steve Gibson has done an incredible job. The players they have had in the recent history and the success they have had is unbelievable – players like Juninho and Ravenelli.
“It is a little bit different to Preston, where there success came in years gone by with Sir Tom and the like.
“Both clubs are very similar – one town clubs and if you are born there, you are a fan of that club and that’s how it should be. I’m looking forward to how it transpires on Wednesday night.”
Both clubs have made a lot of progress since their issues in the mid-1980s, Boro going on win cup competitions and play in Europe, but the former North End boss feels they have both made significant progress.
“I remember walking through the doors at Preston, in the old stand, into the old changing rooms to meet Becky [John Beck] and I was there when the stadium was rejuvenated and the whole town got behind the club and it was a fantastic time to be around Preston.
“It was the same at Middlesbrough with the old Ayresome Park; where I remember cleaning the toilets and the boot room – but I loved that place and I never wanted to be away from it.
“It is amazing how far both clubs have come.
“The Riverside Stadium – you just can’t imagine what Steve [Gibson] has done for that town and club, it’s incredible and also at Preston, as well with the stadium renovations and the new training ground – I still hear people moaning and then I look at other clubs and see how far they have fallen with mismanagement and I think both clubs have been managed incredibly well.
“Of course, the fans want them to go and spend more money, but you can’t spend money that you don’t have.
“I always remember meeting with Bryan Gray and Tony Scholes when we used to go and ask for a player and Tony always said the hardest thing for a chief exec was to say ‘no’. We used to go with a list of players and we would be told who is out of budget and you knew where you were batting.
“Both clubs have been managed very well – the easy thing would always be to say ‘yes’, but that might not be the right thing.”
And he admits feeling very proud to have taken charge of the Lilywhites, after the departure of David Moyes to Everton: “When you are in it, you can’t see the woods for the trees. It is only when you step away that you realise how privileged you were and what an honour it was to actually manage Preston North End – Tom Finney’s club – my dad was incredibly proud of that.
“It is a wonderful football club and it was a privilege to have played for, coached and managed the club for two or three months.”
Wednesday’s game sees Neil Warnock bringing Boro to Deepdale and O’Hanlon thinks he is the right man, at the right time for the visitors.
“Neil’s record speaks for itself,” he continued. “I think it is eight promotions, which is out of this world.
“I’ve been in opposite dugouts to him throughout the years, right back to when he was at Bury and he has had a remarkable and fantastic managerial career and I think him and Steve [Gibson] will be a good partnership.
“It is what Middlesbrough needed at this particular time, which everything that has gone on, including Covid.”
The well-documented disparity of results at home and away for PNE is something Kelham feels is massively influenced by the lack of fans inside Deepdale, but he is hoping that changes soon.
“I think it is across the board with the Covid situation – a lot of teams have gone and won away games that they might not have done if fans had been in.
“I used to love the games under the lights at Deepdale with the new stadium going up. It’s the same at Middlesbrough as well, people come out and support their club and give the players everything they have got and in my time at Deepdale it was rocking and rolling and it was a fantastic time to around Preston.
“We gave them a little bit of success, but not the ultimate success that we all strived for at that time, but we hit the post a couple of times!
“The PNE fans were always fantastic towards myself and the team at that time and hopefully when the fans are back, it will help the home form.
“I am sure Alex is racking his brains to get the home form like the fantastic away form and as soon as the fans get back, I am sure that will help rectify it,” he added.
The game is live on iFollow PNE, with Jonathan Breeze and former North End skipper Paul McKenna on air just before 6.30pm, for the 7pm kick-off. Click here now to sign up for an iFollow PNE match pass.