Boro were beaten by three Preston goals on a disappointing evening at Deepdale.

There were two changes up top for Boro from Saturday’s match against Stoke City, with captain Britt Assombalonga replacing Chuba Akpom and Duncan Watmore coming in for Marcus Tavernier.

A nip and tuck opening saw both sides struggle to create anything meaningful. Brad Potts worked the first significant opening for Alex Neil’s side, but slammed his shot into the side netting.

Duncan Watmore had his first chance to run at the North End backline after spinning away into space from a Boro throw-in, the ball bobbled up towards both Assombalonga and Johnson, but neither could connect.

Watmore was in the hunt again when Djed Spence clipped his way from he right flank, but his glancing header was never endangering Declan Rudd’s goal.

The chance of the first half then fell the home side’s way, but with Tom Barkhuizen through one-on-one with Marcus Bettinelli, the Boro keeper did well to both smother his shot and hold onto the ball.

Before the half-time whistle sounded Preston keeper Rudd was called into action, intervening at the crucial moment after good persistence from George Saville to chase a lost cause and pull back towards Assombalonga.

The Teessiders started the second half on the front foot, with Johnson continuing to pepper the Preston box with crosses at every opportunity - one getting stuck under the feet of Watmore and another flicked behind off a home defender.

Then Saville went close at the back post, but with the ball just behind him, his improvised flick bounced narrowly wide.

Boro were punished at the other end when, after a series of headers in our area, Brad Potts drove through a crowd of bodies into the bottom corner.

Neil Warnock responded with changes, Jonny Howson forced off to be replaced by Marcus Tavernier and Chuba Akpom coming on for Watmore.

Johnson then flashed an inviting ball across the face of goal, but no-one in a red shirt was able to apply to crucial touch. Moments later, Boro had one stabbed away off the line then Saville turned and curled a shot over the crossbar. Johnson went for goal himself next time around, which Rudd parried away.

Preston threatened to add to their advantage when Scott Sinclair headed against the crossbar, then soon after saw a shot saved by Bettinelli with Jayden Stockley arrowing wide the follow-up.

Soon, the home side did score again, Sinclair with a neat finish as he slotted into the bottom corner to end a quick breakaway.

And Preston grabbed a third minutes later, sub Emile Riis drilling in beyond Bettinelli.

The closest Boro came to a consolation goal was to come when Tavernier struck a shot back off the upright.