Tony Pulis has defended his decision to ring the changes against Preston North End, claiming certain players needed a rest going into a demanding festive period.
There were four changes in total, with Mo Besic, Jonny Howson, Marcus Tavernier and the usually ever present Stewart Downing all being dropped.
There was also a change in formation, which saw Pulis revert back to the wing-back system used frequently in the opening phase of the season.
The mass changes didn’t appear to help Boro, who got off to a sluggish start before getting a hold of the game before Preston scored the opener.
“We started poorly,” Pulis told BBC Tees. “We were very slow out the blocks and they were by far the better team. We got back into the game and when they scored their goal it looked as though we were the team that was going to score.
“We’ve had two set plays that we should have scored off, and we’ll have a look at them again. It’s happening far too many times, we’ve got to score off the quality of the balls coming in.
“The second half, we were much more in the game, Tav’s had two headers that he could score from, and then Sav’s had a really good header.
“I thought in the first half the referee was going to give a penalty – he ran to the penalty spot and then didn’t give it. So there were opportunities there.”
Pulis opted to switch from 4-3-3, which has been a preferred formation of late, to a 3-5-2, with Daniel Ayala, George Saville, Lewis Wing and Rudy Gestede all coming in.
It was clear from the off that Boro’s set up was disjointed, and their failure to get a foothold in the game could have cost them had it not been for an Aden Flint clearance off the line.
“After the Brentford game you’re looking at one or two players and they’ve given so much and we’re not even into December yet.
“Certain areas of the pitch, players like Howson and Downing, they have worked very hard. Mo (Besic) was always going to have tonight off, he played two games abroad.
“We’ve got to be realistic and careful with some of these lads.”
Pulis’s pragmatic approach is taken with one eye on the demanding festive period which is due to test team’s squads and players physical endurance.
Boro already lost Rudy Gestede and Lewis Wing, two players brought into the starting line-up at Deepdale tonight, to injury. The latter, Pulis said, was suffering from sickness.
“I’ll see how Lewis is. That was a bit of a concern tonight, you don’t really want to see a player coming off because he feels a little bit sick.
“The doctor will assess it tomorrow and we’ll see what has caused it and what we’ll do from there.”
For Gestede, the Boro boss confirmed it was a hamstring injury that forced the Benin frontman off in the first half.
“I’m not sure how bad it is,” he said. “But he’ll be out which, again, is a blow for us. He’s not had much luck since I’ve been here.”
Marcus Tavernier saved the day for Boro, scoring what was his second goal in as many games to ensure the spoils were shared.
On the goal, Pulis said: “It gave us a lift. It’s a difficult place to come, they’ve won their last four games at home, scoring three or four goals.
“And it’s the bounce game, we’ve had two away games in a row and this is the second one which is always difficult.”