HISTORY repeated itself inside five days at the Riverside Stadium, only this time referee Keith Stroud rather than Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis felt the wrath of the frustrated fans.

Just days after Boro had suffered a 2-1 defeat to Brentford by the River Tees, Preston North End did exactly what the Bees did by coming from behind to claim three points.

Whereas Pulis was booed during the weekend reversal because of a second half substitution that was perceived to be negative, Stroud was the villain of the piece this time for controversially sending off defender Daniel Ayala.

The two decisions, one by a manager and another by the man in the middle, were made around the same time of each game and ended up leading to a couple of defeats that have left Middlesbrough staring at a 15-point gap to second placed Leeds United.

Middlesbrough were on track for only a fourth win in 14 home games when Ashley Fletcher scored for the third home game in a row at the Riverside in the 32nd minute.

Pulis’ side had plenty of chances to put the game to bed after that but in the end Stroud’s harsh decision to show Ayala the red card, for a strong last-ditch challenge on Brandon Parker just after the hour did the rest.

Preston’s skipper Paul Gallagher curled in the resultant free-kick and with eight minutes remaining substitute Jayden Stockley headed in the winner when Middlesbrough’s defence was slow to react; to seal a first win on Teesside since 1972.

Boro are now in danger of dropping out of the top six, where the Lilywhites are just now two points shy of.

Pulis wanted a reaction and required a positive start because of the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s defeat to Brentford, when he made the unpopular decision of taking off 12-goal Britt Assombalonga when it was 1-0.

The change in mood and atmosphere was followed by two goals and a defeat, which heralded more sarcastic chants from the stands and the former West Brom boss could have done with avoiding a repeat – particularly when Fletcher put his team ahead again.

Ordinarily Saturday’s events could have been taken in isolation, but the fact it was a result that had meant Middlesbrough winning just three of their previous 13 home games heightened concerns.

Preston’s ten-match unbeaten run building up to the trip to Teesside suggested it wouldn’t be a routine night either.

Friend, the man well-liked by supporters who had the dishonour of replacing Assombalonga, was back in the starting line-up as a wing-back after recovering from injury, while Aden Flint slotted back into the middle of the defence after his lay-off.

It was clear from the outset that Friend and Howson had been instructed to get forward as much as they could down the flanks. It was the latter who had the first effort on goal, when his stinging distance drive was turned behind for a corner by goalkeeper Declan Rudd.

Even though Rudd was not tested again before the opener, Middlesbrough could count themselves unfortunate not to have found the net sooner than they did.

From that first corner, Ayala stretched to connect to Fletcher’s flick on from Lewis Wing’s corner and the ball shaved the post. The woodwork was there again a few minutes later when John Obi Mikel came within an inch of scoring his first for the club when his turn and low effort bounced back off the upright.

Preston did have a period where they threatened after that in the opening half, without seriously testing goalkeeper Darren Randolph. The Ireland goalkeeper didn’t have a save to make because a flurry of balls into the box from set-pieces and wide were successfully coped with.

Then Middlesbrough were rewarded just after the half hour at a time when Pulis had turned away in frustration after a few decent deliveries into the area had not been rewarded with a touch from a red shirt.

Mo Besic, who many felt might have dropped out of the team to keep George Saville in, laid on the opener. He made a strong run towards the Preston box, rolled a pass for Fletcher to run on to and his side-foot finish deflected off Jordan Storey and nestled in the far corner.

Middlesbrough also had other chances to extend the lead before the break.

Rudd had to make a strong save with his legs to deny the lively Howson again, while the Preston No 1 had to be alert to block Assombalonga from scoring after Fletcher’s flick on had played him in.

The home fans will have started to fear there would be a repeat of letting a lead slip like they did on Saturday, and Pulis had to come up with a way to ensure his players avoided that after the restart.

A second goal continued to evade Middlesbrough after the restart too. Ayala hammered an effort from 12 yards over the bar and then Howson somehow missed the target from similar distance after Wing’s decent find.

Then Stroud intervened, deeming Ayala’s challenge on Barker was reckless even though he came away with the ball, and the game completely changed as a contest from there.

Nothing should be taken away from Gallagher for his brilliance from the set-piece because the way he curled around the wall and inside the far post gave Randolph no chance – and then it became more about whether Middlesbrough could hold on.

The answer was no. With eight minutes remaining, and after a couple of other scares, Pearson’s long-range effort deflected high and dropped into the penalty area in front of Randolph’s goal.

Stockley, who had only been on the pitch eight minutes, had acres of space to power his header high beyond the goalkeeper to put Preston ahead and to leave Pulis frustrated.

Now Middlesbrough’s concerns are more about staying in the top six than climbing into the top two.