If Phil Brown's midweek comments about Middlesbrough were designed to disrupt the Riverside outfit's preparations, then the Preston boss' tactics were designed to stifle Boro's creativity at every opportunity.
Brown's obdurate 5-3-2 formation afforded Boro's forward line of Kris Boyd and Leroy Lita very little in the way of movement, but in doing so it created gaps in the midfield, with Boro's four men gaining the ascendancy over the Lilywhites' midfield three.
With Lita and Boyd stifled, Boro were reduced to half-chances in the opening 45 minutes, with Gary O'Neil forcing Preston goalkeeper Andy Lonergan into a couple of simple stops.
However, a long-range effort almost brought Boro the first goal of the game five minutes before half-time. Nicky Bailey's 30-yard strike was parried only as far as Lita, who saw his follow-up shot palmed away again by Lonergan.
On 44 minutes, Paul Parry who had seen an earlier effort repelled by Jason Steele danced his way into the Boro box only for his effort to be deflected out of play.
As far as halves of football go, the first half at the Riverside will surely go into the 'one for the purists' file. And, in truth, the second half threatened to be much the same.
Marvin Emnes, a second-half substitute for the ineffectual Kris Boyd, had a couple of chances to give Boro the lead on 68 and 69 minutes, but was denied by Lonergan for the first chance and let down by poor finishing for the second.
Such was the dearth in quality going forward, it seemed almost fitting that a centre-half should provide the sole moment of real quality, as Boro's skipper Bates skipped around Preston's midfield and unleash an unstoppable shot past Lonergan from the edge of the area. An unlikely source and, truth be told, an unlikely goal.
Lonergan prevented Boro making it two with a stunning save on 81 minutes from Leroy Lita, who deflected Andrew Taylor's low cross goalwards. The Lilywhites stopper pounced and showed superb athleticism to paw Lita's unorthodox effort into safety.
The importance of that save was only too apparent when, seven minutes later, Conor McLaughlin swept a cross in, Nathan Ellington on as a substitute fluffed his lines and Jones was on hand to nod past Steele to give Preston a share of the points.
Source: Northern Echo
Source: Northern Echo