In a game against the Championship's bottom club, Boro know that they must avoid defeat to stand any chance of dropping back into the bottom three.
And manager Tony Mowbray has recalled Tavares at the heart of the midfield, with striker Scott McDonald the man to make way from the defeat at Doncaster before Christmas.
PRESTON NORTH END (4-4-2): Lonergan; Jones, Brown, Morgan, De Laet; Pugh, Tonge, Russell, Barton; King, Parkin. Subs: Davidson, Coutts, Nicholson, Treacy, Parry, Arestidou (gk), McLaughlin. MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Steele; Hoyte, Bates, Wheater, Bennett; O'Neil, Tavares, Thomson, Arca; Emnes, Lita. Subs: McDonald, Boyd, Bailey, Kink, Coyne (gk), Hines, McMahon.