It’s Middlesbrough away on Saturday. The Rams are top and Boro are closely behind in fourth. Since things have settled in the table, both sides have been a constant figure at the top.
Middlesbrough’s home record isn’t brilliant, their away form is much better (the best in the division, in fact). Derby’s away record is impressive – 5 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats from 10. The Leeds defeat was the worst it’s been all season on the road. Interestingly, Watford, Bournemouth and Blackburn (all teams in and around the top 6) have all come away from the Riverside with a point over the past month or so.
Patrick Bamford will score. It’s one of those things. Ex-players giving their old side a bit of a kick. He’s scored 7 so far this season – 5 in his last 6 appearances. Recent paper talk linked both sides with a £2 million scrap for the Chelsea striker in January. However, it seems he will stay up North. A part of me thinks ‘yeah, get him just to stop Boro benefiting from his goals’.
Back to the Rams and can we expect any changes to the side that handsomely disposed of Brighton in 20 minutes and then appeared to go rather flat? Firstly, Jamie Ward returned as a sub on Saturday. As a big fan of Ward and his tenacity on the pitch, I would stick him back into the line-up. There’s also the question of what to do at centre-half. Richard Keogh is set to be available after injury. Certainly he must return, but who to partner him? I find it difficult to pick out of Ryan Shotton and Jake Buxton, I’d probably give Bucko another chance.
How McClaren and indeed Aitor Karanka approach this will be interesting. Teams have Derby’s style sussed. Leeds recently, Millwall and Wigan have pulled off perfect performances to stop Derby from playing. The Mac really needs a better plan B for those situations, maybe he could add more mettle to the midfield with John Eustace on Saturday, preferring him over the more technically-gifted Omar Mascarell?
For me, both sides will be up there in April and May. This weekend’s match should be a good taste of who has what it takes. Win this and things really will look good. If Derby can emerge from the hectic Christmas and New Year period in the top two, I would be delighted and we really can look be more sure of this side’s credentials. Emerge in the trailing pack and, well, panic? Either way, January investment is a must. It’s not very often you find yourself looking down the table and not up it!
The Riverside hasn’t been a great scene for Derby. January 2000 was the date of the last win there! I’m going to go for a 1-1 draw. Come on you Rams!