Former Derby loanee Patrick Bamford came back to haunt his former club as he scored the only goal to hand Middlesbrough a 1-0 win and boost their bid for automatic promotion from the Sky Bet Championship.
Bamford’s goals were an important factor in carrying the Rams into the play-off final last season but he was singled out for boos from the start and was the target for mocking guffaws in the 62nd minute when a ball bounced wide of goal off his shin from point blank range.
Two minutes later and it was Bamford’s turn to laugh, however, as a typically sharp piece of finishing kept Boro level on points with Championship leaders Watford.
Boro looked the more purposeful early on but after 14 minutes Derby created a clear chance with a cross that Jamie Ward only just failed to touch at full stretch in the goalmouth.
Ward insisted that his shirt had been pulled by Ben Gibson but his claims were ignored and the visitors hit straight back with Lee Tomlin setting up a shooting chance for Albert Adomah.
Derby goalkeeper Lee Grant saved well and then did even better to keep out a second shot from Grant Leadbitter before raging at his defence for being exposed so easily.
Another spell of Middlesbrough pressure ended with Tom Ince racing onto a through ball to claim possession inside the box but full-back George Friend did brilliantly to rob him as he shaped to shoot from twelve yards.
Again Boro swept forward and when Grant was forced to dash from his penalty area to intervene, his clearance only reached Jelle Vossen, whose lob from almost 40 yards was denied when the ball bounced back to the goalkeeper off a post.
Bamford’s every touch was being greeted with jeers from Derby fans but he silenced them in the 64th minute.
The home defence was again pulled out of shape by a smart pass from Tomlin and Bamford reacted instantly to steer a narrow angled shot past Grant.
Derby were lucky when Bamford missed a great chance in stoppage-time.
Derby: Grant, Christie (Thomas 75), Keogh, Albentosa, Forsyth, Bryson, Hanson (Hendrick 70), Hughes, Ince, Russell, Ward (Lingard 70). Unused substitutes: Dawkins, Roos, Shotton, Warnock.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Kalas, Woodgate, Gibson, Friend, Leadbitter, Clayton, Tomlin (Reach 86), Vossen (Forshaw 81), Adomah (Nsue 90), Bamford. Unused substitutes: Garcia, Ripley, Whitehead, Omeruo.
Referee: A D’Urso (Essex).