Preston North End 2 Middlesbrough 3
Mon 1st Jan 3.00pm
Defender Daniel Ayala scored twice as Middlesbrough recovered to earn new manager Tony Pulis a first victory in charge at Preston North End.
The Spaniard headed them into an early lead but Callum Robinson immediately equalised and Jordan Hugill then put the hosts in front.
However, Jonny Howson later curled in a leveller before Ayala headed his second of the contest with seventeen minutes remaining.
There were earlier three changes made for the second successive game, with Cyrus Christie, Adama Traore and full debutant Adlene Guedioura displacing Ryan Shotton, Rudy Gestede and Martin Braithwaite.
And it was Boro striking first when Stewart Downing delivered a thirteenth-minute free-kick headed in by Ayala after the recalled Traore had been brought down.
However, just sixty seconds later Robinson nodded across goalkeeper Darren Randolph to immediately get the scoreline back onto even terms.
Middlesbrough-born Hugill then went close to changing that in favour of the home side as Randolph produced a full-length save before also denying goalscorer Robinson.
The Teessiders still fell behind, though, when home striker Hugill headed in another cross just five minutes before the break.
Things could have grown even worse for them as Tom Barkhuizen struck the crossbar while Johnson was soon testing Randolph upon the restart.
Boro responded with a double-change, Patrick Bamford and Gestede replacing Guedioura and Britt Assombalonga before Shotton later took over from Christie.
And they were suddenly back level with Howson curling past keeper Chris Maxwell from the edge of the area as the midway point of the second period approached.
Substitute Gestede then narrowly cleared the target when fellow replacement Bamford linked up with Howson, until Ayala decisively headed his second at the far post after Downing's corner was initially cleared.
Ben Pearson replied wide of the mark at the other end and Randolph then turned over from Daryl Horgan as the visitors held on for victory.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Clarke, Huntington, Davies, Woods, Johnson (Gallagher 78), Pearson, Barkhuizen (Horgan 78), Harrop, Robinson, Hugill
subs (unused): Rudd, Cunningham, Browne, Welsh, O'Connor
Goals: Robinson (14), Hugill (40)
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Christie (Shotton 59), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Howson, Leadbitter, Guedioura (Bamford 50), Downing, Assombalonga (Gestede 50), Traore
subs (unused): Konstantopoulos, Fletcher, Johnson, Baker
Goals: Ayala (13, 73), Howson (65)
Ref: D. Coote