The Build Up: Derby County vs Middlesbrough
Saturday’s match sees Boro make the 133-mile trip to Pride Park to face Wayne Rooney’s Derby County.
It’s strange to say but despite losing 4-1 on home soil, there was plenty of encouragement to take from the game against Brentford last time out. New signing Yannick Bolasie was a constant threat, offering much-needed pace and directness to the Boro attack while fellow newcomer Neeskens Kebano’s teasing cross causing panic in the area to gift Boro the lead.
Boro fans should expect to see Bolasie and Kebano continue in their roles this weekend, you would imagine; with deadline-day signing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing getting some much-needed game time off the bench. Once again, it’s the striker position which is proving difficult to predict. I would imagine Neil Warnock will opt for a return to the starting line-up for Chuba Akpom this weekend after Britt Assombalonga struggled to leave an impact on the game last week.
Warnock may be tempted to start Ashley Fletcher also after he completed 90 minutes in an u23 fixture against Leeds earlier in the week. The forward hasn’t started since limping off with a hamstring injury against Bournemouth earlier in the season. However, with both Akpom and Assombalonga misfiring this season, Warnock may opt to start Fletcher should he be deemed fit and ready to play.
At the other end of the pitch, Boro fans will be hoping for Dael Fry to return to action, following his calf injury sustained in the draw vs Norwich. However, the game is likely to be too soon for the young centre-half. Boro have conceded seven in the last two full games Fry has missed, and kept a clean sheet in the one game he featured in.
Fresh from winning the North East Player of the Year, Jonny Howson will be raring to go again at the weekend in what is likely to be a much more difficult test this time are around. Young Player of the Year Marcus Tavernier is still sidelined for the fixture after his knee injury suffered in the defeat against Blackburn.
Since meeting in November, results have picked up for Derby after dropping to the bottom of the Sky Bet Championship and have lost just three games since that match. It’s Wayne Rooney’s first experience in the managerial hotseat and the Rams go into the game on the back of a 3-0 defeat to Rotherham, a scoreline, Boro faithful are familiar with.
Returning to face his former employers is Patrick Roberts, who had his loan cut short on deadline day, in favour of a move to Derby. The tricky winger made very few appearances for Boro this season after Warnock admitted to not playing him because of his defensive frailties but backs Roberts to flourish at Derby.
The top scorer for the Rams is the well-travelled Colin Kazim-Richards, making his return to English football for the first time since his loan spell at Blackburn Rovers expired in 2013. Kazim-Richards has scored both of Derby’s last two goals. The Turkish forward is yet to be on the losing side when he has scored; winning four and drawing one.
Last Meeting: Middlesbrough 3-0 Derby - 25/11/2020
The last outing between the two sides seen Boro run out 3-0 victors in a match which saw Wayne Rooney make his last playing appearance of his career, before eventually being made full-time manager for the Rams. Goals from captain Assombalonga, Marvin Johnson and an own goal from Derby defender Matthew Clarke helped Boro to a routine victory.
It is Boro who boast the better head-to-head record between the two sides, despite Derby’s larger trophy cabinet and their success in the 1970s under Boro-born Brian Clough.
Derby’s last win over Boro came in 2019, when a brace from Tom Lawrence, either side of a George Saville dismissal, gave the Rams a 2-0 victory over Jonathan Woodgate’s side.
Boro Wins: 65
Derby Wins: 50