• James Barker

Middlesbrough vs Derby County: The Breakdown build-up

The Riverside Stadium plays host to one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes of the season on Saturday.

The meeting that has been entirely fueled by matters off the pitch has finally arrived, as Middlesbrough host Wayne Rooney’s Derby County this weekend.

Chris Wilder and his players showed no signs of fatigue in their midweek outing against QPR, as they came away from the capital somewhat frustrated that they only left with one point instead of three.

Whereas Derby put an end to their three game winless run in midweek, comfortably dispatching Hull City in a 3-1 win at Pride Park Stadium, a win that is sure to fill those Derby players with confidence as they make their way to Teesside.

Boro have won only one of the last seven league meetings against The Rams, but will they get an all important three points this weekend? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of it.

The Opposition

Derby County

Nickname: The Rams

Founded: 1884

Stadium: Pride Park Stadium

Current league position: 23rd

Last season finish: 21st

Manager: Wayne Rooney

Current Top Scorer: Tom Lawrence (9)

Fun fact: In September 1888, the first ever football league matches were played. Derby won their opening game in a 6-3 win over Bolton, and based on modern day calculations, this result would mean Derby would become English football’s first ever league leaders.

Derby County are in the midst of the club’s most rockiest period in their 138 year history. Matters off the field have been well published, but to their credit, the team under the stewardship of now local hero Wayne Rooney have done brilliantly in terms of controlling what they can control, and have given themselves a fighting chance of completing the greatest of escapes.

To get a better understanding of the team and indeed the mood in Derbyshire, I spoke to widely respected Derby County writer Jake Barker (Twitter - @JakeBarker1212). Here’s what Jake had to say on his Derby County side.

What is the atmosphere like around the club at the moment?

“The atmosphere is incredibly positive. No matter if we win or lose, the atmosphere is always fantastic and the fans are 100% behind the players.

“Definitely the closest everyone has been for a long time.”

What are the things you’ve been most impressed with about your side?

What's most impressive is that desire to keep fighting until the very end.

“We've won so many points with late comebacks/goals that have been vital in the fight for survival.

“Also, the sheer number of youth players in our team is brilliant to see, especially when they're playing the way they're playing.”

Which players should we be watching out for?

“Defensively, Curtis Davies is having a fine season. Krystian Bielik makes us tick in the centre of the park.

“But going forwards, Tom Lawrence and Festy Ebosele are the magic men.

“Lawrence seems to have finally found that clinical edge, whilst Festy is possibly the fastest player I've ever seen for us. Both have been huge for us recently.”

How will Derby likely set themselves up tactically for this match?

“Tactically, we'll probably set up in a 4-3-3 the same as usual.

“We're still missing Richard Stearman through suspension, so left back Lee Buchanan is likely to fill in at centre half again.”

Jake’s Match Prediction

It's a hard one! I'd really like us to win of course, but away from home we've not had much luck this season.

“My heart says a 1-0 away win, but my head thinks we'll lose 2-0 in a hard fought game.”

The Form Book

Middlesbrough (Last six: DWWLWW)

QPR 2-2 Middlesbrough

Manchester United 1-1 Middlesbrough (7-8 Pens Boro, FA Cup)

Middlesbrough 1-0 Coventry

Blackburn Rovers 1-0 Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 2-1 Reading

Mansfield Town 2-3 Middlesbrough (FA Cup)

Derby County (Last six: WLDLWL)

Derby County 3-1 Hull City

Huddersfield Town 2-0 Derby County

Derby County 2-2 Birmingham City

Nottingham Forest 2-1 Derby County

Derby County 2-0 Sheffield United

Coventry City 1-0 Derby County (FA Cup)

Head-to-Head League Record

Matches played - 107

Wins - Middlesbrough 49-34 Derby County

Draws - 24

Goals - Middlesbrough 179-146 Derby County

Points - Middlesbrough 171-126 Derby County

Last League Meeting

Last six:

Derby County 0-0 Middlesbrough - August 21, 2021

Derby County 2-1 Middlesbrough - February 13, 2021

Middlesbrough 3-0 Derby County - November 25, 2020

Middlesbrough 2-2 Derby County - January 11, 2020

Derby County 2-0 Middlesbrough - November 2, 2019

Derby County 1-1 Middlesbrough - January 1, 2019

League Statistics


7th, won 13, drawn 7, lost 9

Goals scored 34, goals conceded 28

Clean sheets 11

Points 46

Derby County:

23rd, won 9, drawn 12, lost 9

Goals scored 31, goals conceded 31

Clean sheets 10

Points 18

Team News

Middlesbrough picked up a couple of bumps and bruises during their 2-2 draw with QPR on Wednesday night, with the most notable being the injuries sustained to Matt Crooks and Martin Payero.

Crooks took a hefty whack above his eye in the latter stages of the game, but thanks to one of the best quotes I’ve seen from a manager in a long time, it would appear that he is going to be just fine.

Speaking on Crooks, Chris Wilder would state: “The big daft tree, he’s just got a knock to one of his branches hasn’t he? He’s a tough old Yorkshire boy though. He’ll get on with it. He’s okay and he is available.”

Martin Payero entered the pitch and was then down injured quicker than you could say ‘I proper love uncle Albert me’, as the Argentinian flew into a tackle that left him writhing in pain.

Seeing him get stretchered off the field left all of us screaming to the heavens and demanding an explanation from the football gods, but thankfully, it doesn’t appear to be as serious as first thought.

Wilder confirmed that once the swelling has gone down from his ankle, they will scan his foot and hope for some good news. But hopes have been raised after Payero’s girlfriend posted an update on social media thanking fans for their support whilst stating that ‘Martin is fine’. He will not be available for this weekend though.

As for Derby, Wayne Rooney has a couple of players unavailable for selection this weekend, but is expected to name a largely unchanged team after their 3-1 win over Hull City in midweek.

Midfield stalwart Krystian Bielik made his first start for Derby in over a year against Hull City after recovering from a knee injury. He picked up a similar injury to that of Matt Crooks, and like Boro’s midfielder, is expected to be fine for Saturday.

Former Boro player Ravel Morrison is available to Rooney once again, after completing his three-match suspension. The same can’t be said for central defender Richard Stearman, as Saturday’s game will be the second of the three games he has to serve from the stands, and thus won’t be available.

Forward Colin Kazim-Richards (calf) and midfielder Kamil Jozwiak (ankle) remain sidelined with their respective injuries, whilst an interesting situation is brewing around Rams starlet Festy Ebosele that may mean he misses out this weekend.

The 19-year-old Republic of Ireland international has just six months of his contract at Pride Park remaining, and reports in Italy have suggested that he is close to signing a pre-contract expiry deal with Serie A club Udinese.

Rooney and the club have denied any knowledge of this, but Rooney has revealed that Ebosele is now ‘touch-and-go’ for Saturday’s game with a hamstring problem, but will travel with the team to Teesside.

Manager's Thoughts

Speaking after Middlesbrough’s hard-earned draw against QPR, Boro boss Chris Wilder was thrilled with what he saw from his team, saying:

“It was a brilliant game to be involved in and I was delighted with their effort and we have to continue that.

“There is always the result for me but there’s always got to be a performance. Taking out the Bournemouth and the Forest game, that was right up there.

“It’s a good point to take. QPR are on a fabulous run and I have a huge amount of respect for Mark and the work he’s done.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s eagerly awaited clash with Derby, Wilder wants his players to just control what they can control, saying:

“Onto Saturday now and a huge game that will bring publicity and exposure because of the off the field matters rather than on the field.

“That’s got nothing to do with us and the players so we have to get on and produce a performance.

“There will be a lot of noise surrounding the game. We have to play with our hearts and minds which any team that wants to produce a good performance has to and we have to concentrate on that.”

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s clash with Middlesbrough, Derby County boss Wayne Rooney has ensured his side are fully focused for the game, saying:

“Our focus is purely on the game. For myself and the players, the aim is getting three points and that’s what our focus is.

“Our fans have sold out the allocation tomorrow and we know they’ll be right behind us.

“Nothing changes with our mindset. We go into every game with one aim: three points.”

Speaking after the news of an agreement being reached between Mel Morris and Steve Gibson was announced on Friday, Rooney would say on this:

“Hopefully we can move forward now. It is a step in the right direction.

“That was the main stumbling block so that being resolved is good news. Hopefully the bidders who’ve been in discussions can move things forward fairly quickly now.

“The next step is trying to get new owners in. The Middlesbrough and Wycombe situations have been hard for the administrators. Hopefully we can start to move forward.”

Predicted Line-ups

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): GK: Joe Lumley DEF: Dael Fry, Anfernee Dijksteel, Paddy McNair (C) MID: Isaiah Jones, Matty Crooks, Marcus Tavernier, Jonny Howson (C), Neil Taylor ATT: Andraz Sporar, Duncan Watmore

Derby County (4-2-3-1/4-3-3): GK: Ryan Allsopp DEF: Nathan Byrne, Curtis Davies, Lee Buchanan, Craig Forsyth MID: Krystian Bielik, Max Bird ATT: Festy Ebosele, Jason Knight, Tom Lawrence (C), Luke Plange


Referee: Mike Dean

Assistants: Edward Smart & Daniel Robathan

Fourth Official: Carl Boyeson

Match Prediction

Well, this is the game we’ve all been waiting for isn’t it? The 'Mel-Gibson derby' as I’m calling it. That’s purely because I thought it would be funny to throw as many titles of Mel Gibson films into this segment as I can, so see how many you can spot!

I’m sure everyone is aware of the backdrop to this encounter, and if you aren’t, then lucky you because I’m sure like me, everyone has grown rather tired of this whole nonsense now.

Derby County have been teetering on the edge of darkness ever since their dire financial situation was made fully aware to footballing world. 2021 was definitely the year of living dangerously for Derby, but you have to commend the response that has been shown on the pitch at Pride Park this season.

Rooney and his team have shown plenty of signs that they are capable of avoiding relegation this season, and they’ve been winning points on merit, not fluke.

Indeed, only six teams have lost less Championship games than Derby’s nine so far this season, with all of those teams currently sitting in top eight of the division. So make no mistake, this won’t be an easy game for Middlesbrough.

The Rams have also mastered the art of drawing too, as no team has picked up more draws than County’s 12 so far this season, and indeed, no club has picked up more draws on the road than Derby’s six so far this campaign.

And in Festy Ebosele, they have found a lethal weapon, as his dangerous amount of raw speed mixed with impressive dribbling ability and an eye for goal, will undoubtedly be drawing the attention of some big clubs.

Derby’s star player is undoubtedly Tom Lawrence, who’s nine goals and five assists have been vital to his side’s chances this season, and he has proven himself to be a real force of nature at Championship level.

But it’s not just Derby who have a side laced with fight and determination, as this Boro side have it in abundance. We were soldiers at Old Trafford, and have no doubt had to overcome some battlefield wounds this season, and from Chris Wilder and Matt Crook’s sort of the professor and the madman relationship, to the absolute maverick that is Sol Bamba, our team is full of brave hearts too.

And with the advantage of a packed out home crowd, with a Derby side who prior to their midweek win, were winless in three and conceded six goals in those three games, I’m confident this Saturday will see Boro pick up three big points.

And on a personal note, I hope this isn’t the last time our two clubs meet each other.

Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-0 Derby County

Mel Gibson hidden films answers (I can’t stop you from cheating but it is frowned upon): Edge of Darkness, The Year of Living Dangerously, Signs, Lethal Weapon, Dangerous, Force of Nature, The Professor and the Madman, Maverick, Braveheart

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