At a time when the home side sit in 10th position in the standings, Middlesbrough have recently dropped down to 12th, four points adrift of their next opponents.
Although Middlesbrough have been inconsistent throughout this campaign, the prospect of three successive matches at the Riverside Stadium set up the opportunity to move back into the promotion mix.
Instead, a failure to win any of those fixtures against Rotherham United, Sunderland and Bristol City has led to doubts whether Michael Carrick should remain at the helm.
Reaching the EFL Cup semi-finals courtesy of a favourable route aside, Boro have been poor this season and draws with Rotherham and Sunderland were followed by a 2-1 reverse to Bristol City on Saturday.
Boro were 2-0 behind after 17 minutes and netted their goal in stoppage time, and there is a negative mood at the North East outfit after just four wins in 12 league fixtures.
Now trailing the playoff positions by six points, Boro are considerable outsiders to reach the top six and only wins will do in the short and long term if they are to get back into contention.
That is the response that Ryan Lowe has gotten from his Preston outfit, who have recorded back-to-back victories over Ipswich Town and Cardiff City respectively.
Preston had previously won just three of 13 games in the second tier to drop towards the mid-table positions, but there is now renewed belief at Deepdale.
Successive triumphs had not been posted since November 10 and they now sit just four points behind fifth-placed West Bromwich Albion ahead of two home matches in a row.
Given the downturn in performances earlier in the season, Lowe will not be getting carried away with the recent improvements, yet he will back his side to come through this contest with their only defeat in five being a last-gasp 2-1 loss at Leeds United.
Barring any fitness issues, Lowe is expected to name the same Preston XI that ran out convincing victors at Cardiff.
With Josh Coburn likely to miss out again with a groin issue, Sam Greenwood could retain his spot in attack, and a further six players - including Matt Crooks who has completed a move to Real Salt Lake - will be absent.
Preston North End possible starting lineup:
Woodman; Storey, Lindsay, Hughes; Potts, Browne, Whiteman, Frokjaer-Jensen, Millar; Keane, Riis
Middlesbrough possible starting lineup:
Glover; Ayling, Fry, Van den Berg, Thomas; Hackney, Barlaser; Forss, McGree, Azaz; Greenwood
We say: Preston North End 1-1 Middlesbrough
With momentum in their favour, Preston are justifiably favourites to come through this contest on home territory. However, Boro are in a position where they need a response, and we are backing Carrick's side to deliver, even if it is only in the form of a draw.
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