Tony Pulis replaced a striker with a defender for the 2nd time in less than a week, though there were no jeers from the crowd this time as the Boro manager’s hand was forced by a controversial red card to Daniel Ayala which tilted the match in favour of the away side.
Moments earlier, Ayala had made what most observers could see was a perfect goal-saving tackle, as he rightly denied Brandon Barker from getting through on goal.
However, while most fans and pundits were unanimous that the tackle was fair, referee Keith Stroud thought otherwise as he went to his pocket before giving Ayala his marching orders.
That decision turned the game on its head as Preston, who were trailing in the game thanks to a 1st half Ashley Fletcher strike, scored from the resulting free-kick.
They added further salt to the home side’s wounds as with 8 minutes remaining on the clock, Jayden Stockley headed the ball past Randolph to lift Preston North End to within two points of the play-off places.
How the match panned out
Having seen his team put in a lifeless performance in the defeat at Brentford last weekend, Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis recalled defenders Aden Flint and George Friend after injury.
They were on the front foot from early on as a Jonny Howson strike, which forced a fine save from Preston goalkeeper Declan Rudd, was followed up by a Daniel Ayala effort whose shot kissed the upright without troubling the goalkeeper.
Boro continued to press and got the reward in the 32nd minute as the in-form Ashley Fletcher rounded in a perfect pass from Mo-Besic to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
Middlesbrough started the second half like they had ended the 1st as they continued to create chances while also lacking the cutting edge in front of goal that would have put the game to bed.
Then, following the referee’s dismissal of Daniel Ayala, Preston made the home side pay for their wastefulness in front of goal as Gallagher scored a delightful goal from the free kick.
With eight minutes remaining on the clock, Preston celebrated their 2nd and what proved to be the winner as Stockley headed in from a Pearson shot which was deflected on the way.
What Pulis had to say?
“Even before the red card, if you create the opportunities and chances we have, we’ve got to be more than 1-0 up. I have been at the club for 14 months and I haven’t stopped talking about the chances in the final third that we throw away.”
“The decision, I have watched it now on four different angles. The referee is a long way away from the challenge and he has players in between him. It looks for me that he can’t see the challenge because two of their players and one of our players is in the way.”
"I have said to him that to make a decision like that you have to be 100 percent sure, you can't be 50 percent or 60 percent, otherwise you are gambling, and I think he gambled, he made a very, very poor choice and it affected the game."