Boro’s decision to replace Gary Monk with Tony Pulis raised a few eyebrows and it was anything but a dream start for the former West Brom boss. He saw his new Boro side beaten 1-0 at home by Aston Villa on Saturday to lose ground on one of their rivals for a top six finish.
On new years day Boro face another side that is right in the mix of the race for the play-offs.
Preston now have to be taken seriously and they laid down a real marker with an excellent 1-0 win at Cardiff on Friday night. It was a performance full of character from a side assembled on a budget of less than £2million.
The fact that they are 2 points above a Middlesbrough side that spent £15milllion on Britt Assombalonga alone in the summer, half explains why Steve Gibson felt that Gary Monk’s time was up. Boro are certainly under-achieving and things aren’t likely to get any easier at Deepdale.
Overall this feels like it could be a low-scoring game. A huge 75% of Preston home games this term have produced under 2.5 goals. In recent weeks they’ve got back to the level of extreme defensive solidity they reached earlier in the campaign, with just 2 goals conceded in their last 6 matches. They have not been brilliant at the other end though and 7 of their last 9 matches overall and all of their last 5 at Deepdale have seen under 2.5 goals scored in total.
None of Middlesbrough’s last 10 games have produced more than three goals and with Pulis at the helm, it’s unlikely they are going to get more expansive. His first real move of note was to bring targetman Rudy Gestede in for only his fifth league start and that speaks volumes about how he may try to change Boro’s style of play.
This match sees two of the division’s six best defences meet. Preston have let in just 0.92 goals per game this term, while Boro have conceded 0.96. This feels like a game where defence could well come out on top.
It’s a tough game to call. Preston are the slight favourites but they are also the Championship’s draw specialists with 10 of their 25 games this term ending level.
A Draw is worth considering here in what should be a pretty even game.
Preston have won none of the 10 meetings with Boro this century, Boro have won 6 of them and that includes 3 victories at Deepdale.
42% of Preston home games this season have been drawn.
Boro Championship matches this term average 2.24 goals per game.
Preston matches average just 2.04.