North End had a troubled end to the year and things did not get any better at the start of 2020. After hitting top of the table in early November Preston have been on a steady descent down the Championship table.
Alex Neil made changes to revitalise his squad as Middlesbrough travelled to Deepdale but Preston made it two home defeats in a row and more importnatly two distinctly average performances.
Gestede scored for the visitors just before the break as Preston failed to clear their lines from a set piece. The second goal came after the interval when Davies tried to clear only for the ball to slide past Rudd with the aid of a deflection from Fletcher.
The goals only showed part of the story. Middlesbrough could have had double the two goals they scored and Preston didn't create any meaningful opportunities.
North End, as usual, had much of the possession. Most teams now realise that Preston are difficult to play against at Deepdale so sit back and play on the break. Preston simply don't have the ability or guile to break down such teams. The visitors played on the break but were so much better with possession creating multiple chances carving open Preston.
Maguire is inefficient on the left and his statistics in terms of goals and assist reflect this. Barkhuizen works hard and has pace but with Gallagher out of sorts he was rarely put in a position of prominence.
The all round team performance was poor. Dominant in possession they failed to do anything with the ball. It is a recurring theme but Preston are good at playing up to the opposition's 18 yard box but then stumble. The ball is either whipped in to a lone striker or passed backwards.
North End are far from crisis point but Neil is now in his third season and the same issues are cotninuing. Preston move the ball too slowly and throw in aimless crosses to a frontman who is not tall enough to win balls.
Questions are starting to be asked about selection and recruitment. Neil will be glad of the FA Cup break to rest a few players but Preston are now effectively in a race with about a dozen teams for a play off place wheras a montha go North End had some distance between themselves and seventh place.
There is still time to resurrect the season but wider issues need to be addressed if Preston are to improve.