Middlesbrough have just come through their shortest close season on record and it did not take long for their old failings to surface.
Last season, which they ended by losing in the Championship play-off final to Norwich City 11 weeks ago, they were the lowest scorers in the top eight of the division.
Aitor Karanka’s side were too often guilty of failing to kill off teams, although at Deepdale on Sunday they never had newly promoted Preston in a position to inflict a fatal blow.
“Last season we had a lot of chances, which we missed, but today we only had two or three so we need to create more chances. They [Preston] played better than us today. They were very well organised and we couldn’t play in our way,” admitted the Middlesbrough manager.
Preston did indeed defend and compete superbly on their return to play in the Championship for the first time since 2011, having won their own play-off final in May.
But they were undoubtedly helped by the lack of a penalty area predator in the Middlesbrough side.
Kike looks to do much of his good work outside the box, while new signing Cristhian Stuani was given just 15 minutes to make an impression following his recent arrival from Espanyol. With Patrick Bamford, Jelle Vossen and Lee Tomlin all having left over the summer (the first two at the end of loan spells) it is no wonder Karanka still wants to add a goalscorer to his ranks, with Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes likely to attract further interest following the rejection of a bid near to £10m.
While Boro were poor at one end of the pitch, Karanka could take solace from the performance of Dael Fry, the Middlesbrough-born 17-year-old defender making his league debut.
The England youth international improved throughout the match to help secure a clean sheet and keep at bay Joe Garner and Will Keane, who was denied a match-winning debut by George Friend’s goal-line clearance after half an hour.
With Boro midfielder Grant Leadbitter wasting a clear-cut early chance, no one was to come closer. But Preston’s manager, Simon Grayson, who was missing his striker, Jermain Beckford, through injury, was rightly pleased to pass the opening day exam.
“This is part and parcel of where we are and the level we’re at now. It’s going to be tough, demanding but also enjoyable at the same time,” Grayson said.
“We gave a good account of ourselves, set our standards now and we’ve got to maintain that.”
Preston North End (5-3-2): Pickford 6; Vermijl 6 (Humphrey 77), Clarke 8, Huntington 7, Wright 7, Cunningham 6; Johnson 7, Welsh 8, Gallagher 7; Keane 7 (Hugill 84), Garner 6. Substitutes not used James, Kilkenny, Woods, Browne, Brownhill.
Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Konstantopoulos 5; Kalas 6, Ayala 7, Fry 8, Friend 7; Adomah 6, Clayton 7, Leadbitter 7 (Forshaw 88), Reach 6 (Fabbrini 60, 7); Downing 6; Kike 6 (Stuani 77). Substitutes not used Meijas, Carayol, Stephens, Nsue.
Referee C Kavanagh (Lancashire).Reuse content