Neil Warnock called the upcoming match against Derby County a new start to the season. This start is a symbolic one as the side has already played 28 games so far this season but it highlights the situation the side is currently in. While the side has managed to hang onto 7th place, Boro’s recent form is a cause for concern as Bournemouth who sit in 6th have a 5 point advantage over the Tessiders. Now Middlesbrough has a chance to begin a valuable run of form as they face a Derby County side that is down on their luck and down at the bottom of the table.
The idea of wiping the slate clean could prove to be beneficial for Middlesbrough as they step onto the field against the Rams and the season may well hinge on what happens over the next few games and so success could be more vital now than any time this season.
Derby County's Season So Far:
The Rams currently sit in 22nd position. They currently share the same number of points as the side in the first position of safety and hold an extra game in hand. This separation on goal difference will provide optimism to Derby fans who will hope that their side can find a run of form that will bring them out of the danger zone.
The side has earned 28 points so far this season thanks to their seven wins and seven draws but the sides instability is clear when looking at the 13 clashes that they failed to get any points from.
The biggest issue for Derby this season has been their lack of attacking edge. Despite the notable inclusion of Martyn Waghorn, the Pride Park based side has only found the net 17 times this season, which is 0.6 goals per game. The saying goes ‘goals win games’ and the Rams have failed to score goals and so have failed to win games.
On the other hand, their defensive record so far this season has been respectable as they have conceded the same number of goals as Middlesbrough. The defensive solidity gives the side a good basis to build on, if they can find a way to score on a more frequent basis than they do have a good chance of saving themselves from the drop.
The defensive solidity has really come to the fore in the sides recent form as they managed to win 3 of their last 5 league games with a 1-0 scoreline. This presents the way that the side could potentially break away from their poor form and find their way into Championship security. However Wayne Rooney will still be concerned about his side as they fell to 1-0 and 3-0 defeats to Rotherham United. Both of these games would have been considered to be six-pointers as the Millers sit in their own precarious position. It appears that the Melvin Morris owned side struggles with the pressure that comes with such fixtures and that could be the sides ultimate downfall.
Derby’s recent form poses as a warning for Middlesbrough coming into this game as two of their latest wins provide a David vs. Goliath narrative with the Rams succeeding in beating 6th placed Bournemouth and 10th placed Bristol City, both of which pose a formidable challenge as they stake their claim for a place in the playoffs. Meanwhile Middlesbrough sit in the very category that appears to be fertile ground for Derby County having found such success in recent times and so the side that go into the game as favourites may find the Rams to be a difficult force to beat.
Top Goalscorer: Colin Kazim-Richards (5)
Most Assists: Martin Waghorn, Kamil Jozwiak (2)
Most Yellow Cards: Graeme Shinnie (7)
Most Red Cards: Martin Waghorn (1)
One to watch: Matthew Clarke
In recent seasons, particularly under Frank Lampard, Derby County were known for their attacking style of play and so the side dropping into the relegation battle can be best summarised through failure of the side going forward and so where the currently injured Tom Lawrence, or Martyn Waghorn, or the ageing Colin Kazim-Richards would have had a stake for the one to watch, none of them were considered as the sides defence will be posing the biggest question of Middlesbrough come 3 o’clock on Saturday. So while Krystian Bielik has deservedly had a lot of plaudits from reporters and pundits alike, his injury leads Matthew Clarke to be the man to keep an eye on.
The current loanee from Brighton & Hove Albion started his career at Ipswich Town where he made just 4 appearances for the Tractor Boys. However he gained the interest of Portsmouth who first signed him on loan fro the 2015/2016 season before making the move permanent at the end of the season on a free transfer. His time at Pompey saw him get his first extensive first team exposure making exactly 150 appearances during his time at the club, both on loan and during his more permanent stay. The players performances for the side based on the South coast drew the interest of Brighton Hove & Albion. The Albion paid £3.5m pounds for the young defender who made the 1 hour and 20 minute drive to his new home. He may currently be at the club but he has yet to make a single appearance for the Premier League side instead he was sent on loan to Derby County on two occasions, the latter of which is his current stint at the club.
24 year old Matthew Clarke has made 51 appearances for the Derbyshire based side so far showing that the club rate the centre back.
While the centre back is a formidable opposition having made 1.6 interceptions, 1.7 tackles and a brilliant 4.1 clearances per 90 so far this season he offers more than just a stable foundation. The Englishman is key to the sides distribution as he makes 54 pass attempts on average per game, at a great 80% success rate meaning he has made 42 successful passes on average. So it is clear that the player is key to the sides rotation of the ball and build up play.
Finally, he poses a serious aerial threat having made 1.1 shots per game, the 6th highest in the Derby County side which is a considerable shot per game rate for a centre back.
Manager: Wayne Rooney
The Derby County manager needs no introduction as Wayne Rooney’s history and successes in the game speak for itself. Born in Croxeth, Liverpool, Wayne Rooney made his debut for Everton in 2002 a side that he would go on to make 67 appearances for finding the net 15 times. His form as a young prospect saw him gain the interest of Manchester United who forked out £33.3m, a sizeable fee at the time, for the 19 year old. He would go on to make almost 400 appearances for the world renowned side between 2004 and 2017 finding the net an impressive 183 times for the Red Devils. Then his time at the Manchester side came to an end with the player moving back to his hometown side on a free transfer. He only spent one season at Everton but he made 31 appearances for the side bringing him into touching distance of 100 total appearances for the Toffees. He then packed his bags for a trip to the States where he played for DC United making 48 appearances and scoring 23 goals during his time in the American capital before returning to England in a player-coach role for Derby County, making 30 appearances before taking on the managerial job.
Yet the striker may be best known for his efforts for the national side having made a considerable contribution to the three lions over his career. He was capped 120 times finding the net on 53 occasions. Unfortunately, despite his undoubtable talent, England failed to win any major competitions during his time in the side.
A lot has been said about whether Wayne Rooney has the wherewithal to become a successful manager but a lot of reports coming from people who have had the great fortune to have worked with the forward during his playing and coaching career indicate that he is very knowledgeable when it comes to the beautiful game. They also indicate that he has a lot of the qualities that are needed to turn a talented footballer into a brilliant manager. However time will tell if he will be successful in the role and the current challenge with Derby County appears to be a baptism of fire.
Middlesbrough will go into this game as favourites despite their recent form and that will suit a Derby County side that appears to enjoy the underdog role. This could create an interesting match-up beyond what the table would suggest.