GOALS from Patrick Bamford and Grant Leadbitter swept Boro to the top of the table replacing the side they comprehensively beat. Writes GORDON COX from the Riverside.
There was just one change from the side that thrashed Millwall with Ben Gibson, despite 20 stitches in head wound sustained in training, replacing Kenneth Omeruo.
Steve McClaren also made just one change from the side that beat Brighton seven days ago with Richard Keogh returning from injury to captain the side, Jake Buxton the man to make way, dropping to the bench.
It meant that this was arguably the only ground in the country with two Equatorial Guinea internationals in opposition, Emilio Nsue and Omar Mascarell on loan from Real Madrid.
Boro didn’t see too much of the ball for the opening five minutes, but were still playing relatively comfortably, dealing with everything Derby had to offer, which was a lot of possession but not much threat.
So it was that it was with their first meaningful attack that Boro took the lead. Leo Percevic was on touchline duty with Aitor Karanka in the Directors’ Box. With six minutes played they watched good work down the left from Adam Reach that ended with a low cross which was tucked home in confident fashion by Patrick Bamford, his sixth goal in seven games, this one against the side he helped to the play off final last season.
A light frost covering a part of the pitch gave the day a wintry feel, that and temperatures just above freezing, but played no material part in the game which began to open up and expand. That was down in no small measure down to a Boro side who were playing with freedom and confidence, more so following the goal.
But it wasn’t until the 23rd minute that they won their first corner.
Up to that point they had impressed with approach work on either flank, predominantly the left where Reach and George Friend were enjoying a lively afternoon.
Boro nearly added a second when Bamford took control just inside the Derby penalty area and shot first time on the turn. The effort brought a smart save from Lee Grant who quickly followed with an outstanding piece of work to turn away a goalbound shot from Jelle Vossen who had followed-up on the loose ball.
It was, though, a half that rendered few direct chances with most of the play in between the two penalty areas and not often in them. This played out in an atmosphere that was flatter than usual.
Entering injury-time and just shortly after Nsue had a shot from the D deflected making it easier for Grant, Boro had a let off when a mistake led to a chance for Jeff Hendrick, one which was wasted as he curled low and tamely from the edge of the area and Dimi Konstantopoulos save away to his left.
Half-time:Middlesbrough 1 Derby County 0
McClaren made two changes for the start of the second half with Mascarell and Simon Dawkins replaced by Jordan Ibe and Leon Best.
There was a positive start to the half from Boro who increased their shot count as Vossen had one blocked, as did Albert Adomah and Bamford fired straight at Grant.
Friend fizzed a low cross through the box before Adam Clayton fired low and just wide from 22 yards.
Boro eventually increased their lead, as Derby went down to ten men, with 63 minutes played.
Bamford was poised to shoot from close range when brought down by Ryan Shotton who was shown the red card and Grant Leadbitter cracked home a terrific penalty.
Bamford shot low and just off target as Boro went for more and he was prevented from adding a personal second and a third for Boro with another very smart save from Grant as he met a left-wing cross from Adomah and shoot low at an angle from just inside the six-yard box.
That proved his last action as he limped off minutes later, replaced by Kike.
His strike partner Vossen was soon to follow, limping away and replaced by Yanic Wildschut.
He quickly made his mark as he danced into the penalty area from the left passed two and drilled over a low cross which was deflected for a corner.
Minutes later Grant was out of his area to deal with a ball behind the back line and was slightly fortunate to get away with a clearance which Kike all but charged down.
With just over three minutes of normal time remaining Konstantopoulos pulled off smart save away to his left after Chris Martin, complaining his shirt was being pulled, set up Craig Bryson who drilled in a low shot across the goalkeeper.
Scorers Bamford 6, Leadbitter 63 (pen).
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos; Nsue, Ayala, Omeruo, Friend, Adomah, Leadbitter (Capt), Clayton, Reach, Vossen (Wildschut 77), Bamford (Kike 74). Subs: Mejias (gk); Omeruo, Husband, Whitehead, Veljkovic.
Derby County: Grant; Christie, Forsyth, Keogh, Shotton, Bryson, Dawkins (Best 46), Hendrick (Hughes 61), Mascarell (Ibe 46), Martin, Russell. Subs: Roos (gk); Buxton, Coutts, Calero. Order of subs at half-time: 1) Best 2) Ibe
Referee Roger East
Shotton 62, foul on Bamford, preventing a goalscoring opportunity
Middlesbrough Ayala 28, foul; Leadbitter 81, foul
Derby County Hendrick 53, foul; Bryson 71, foul; Forsyth 75, foul
Attendance 17,434 (934 Derby)
Conditions Cold and sunny with a light breeze
Possession Middlesbrough 61% Derby County 39%
Boro Website Man of the Match Patrick Bamford