For the second match running Boro fans were howling in anger on the hour mark. This time it was the ref being roasted for a match changing decision. For startersit was he club of Super Eagles Skipper Jhn Mikel Obi.
For the second game running there were howls of outrage from frustrated fans just after the hour mark.
It was like a switch had been flicked unleashing howls of anguish and yelps of pain. A familiar primal scream.
Against Brentford it was an isolated looking Tony Pulis on the touchline facing the flak from the faithful for a controversial call that supporters insisted he had got wrong.
He had made a switch that changed the dynamics, conceded the initiative and led to the encroaching slo-mo certainty of defeat.
Against Preston it was the referee being jeered and cat-called angrily after a game-changing decision supporters weren’t having..
Keith Stroud stunned the stadium when he brandished what looked a harsh red card for Dani Ayala.
Simmering supporters were puce and pointing, flecked with fury, outraged at a decision heavy with injustice.
Between Mo Besic and Jonny Howson a moment of control in midfield became a moment of danger.
Daniel Ayala is sent off (Image: Simon Moore/Focus Images Ltd)
Brandon Barker stole the ball and surged towards the box and hunter-killer Ayala locked and loaded. He had to make the tackle.
If he missed it then Barker was through on goal, one-on-one with Darren Randolph and all the good work of an entertaining opening hour was in jeopardy.
Yes it was a risky challenge. It was a foot outside the box. Ayala was the last man and there was no room for error.
But that is standard fare for the Spanish stopper. It is his job to make those tackles.
Some fans may criticise. He has acquired a colourful card collection over the years and has given us some heart-in-mouth moments with his high-impact hand-on approach to man-marking.
But he had to go for it. He is a centre-back. They live to make tackles. The relish the contact. The crunch. That is their moment, their sublime whipped assist, their sweet spot that sizzles home. It is their guitar solo. It is their art. And on first glance in real time – and after several replays too – it looked a textbook crunching challenge.
It was perfectly timed and executed. He came sliding in from the side and took the ball cleanly with a meaty impact then his torque and the Preston man’s momentum sent him tumbling.
A harsh interpretation would be that he took the ball, the man, a slither of turf, everything. But that would be harsh.
It seemed to almost everyone to be archetypal ‘firm but fair’. There was no complaint from Barker. There were no appeals from his team-mates. No outrage from the visiting fans who were right up close. The linesman didn’t raise a flag.
And the referee? Did Keith Stroud have a clean view? He was some way back and Jonny Howson loomed large in his field of vision.
So to produce the card – A RED – was a seismic shock. There was stunned silence for a millisecond then the angry roar.
Fans were rightly furious, as much at the sickening sense of deja vu as they felt the furniture of the game moving against them.
And the team must have been gutted. Up until that point they had done everything right in a swashbuckling show of expansive, assertive football.
Boro had dominated possession and territory, won their personal battles, picked and passed forward and shown intelligent and incisive movement to carve open chances.
Preston didn’t look like a team that had gone 10 unbeaten and had won their last five aways. They looked meek.
Boro played with zest and confidence. They did everything right – except score.
That is another little strand of deja vu: once more Boro bossed long spells and created chances but couldn’t profit from them.
Dani Ayala goes close against Preston
Ayala had hit the post. John Obi Mikel also rifled a shot against the woodwork. Howson brought a superb save and had another effort glanced into the side netting. A string of efforts whistled a whisker wide. Again.
They were two times punished because the free-kick for the foul that wasn’t was cracked home and Preston were alive and back in it.