Steve McClaren’s Riverside return did not go to script as the former Middlesbrough chief watched his Derby side lose.
McClaren guided Boro through their best spell in history with a Carling Cup triumph in 2004 and a run to the UEFA Cup final two years later.
He was given a warm reception by the home fans but went home empty-handed as his side fell short of their recent high standards and the Boro battled to edge a close-fought game with a well-taken second-half goal from Nathaniel Chalobah.
“The reception was nice but that was a long time ago and I’m more concerned with today and that wasn’t us today,” he said. “We were below-par and that’s been very rare.
“We played at a low tempo and although I thought we bossed that game in terms of possession we lacked the urgency, penetration and ruthlessness we usually show and we got punished for it.”
Aitor Karanka was happy to see his Middlesbrough side clock up a second successive win.
“I’m delighted,” he said. “We played very well against a good side who are trying to get into the play-offs.
“It shows everybody that when we play like a team we can beat any team in this league. I have said this before.
“We played well to beat Brighton and now to beat Derby, too. We worked very hard and took one chance. The last four or five games at home we have played well but now we are scoring and that means you can get positive results.”
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Varga, Omeruo, Gibson, Friend, Luke Williams (Butterfield 79), Leadbitter, Chalobah, Adomah (Main 90), Tomlin (Ledesma 59), Graham. Unused substitutes: Steele, Kamara, Atkinson, Kitching.
Derby County: Grant, Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Bryson, Thorne (Naylor 86), Hendrick, Bamford (Hughes 78), Martin, Russell (Sammon 61). Unused substitutes: Eustace, O’Brien, Legzdins, Whitbread.
Referee: A Haines (Tyne & Wear).
Man of the match: Kenneth Omeruo.