Middlesbrough v Derby County: Kike may keep the shirt for showdown with chief rivals Rams

Middlesbrough's Kike has impressed up front since replacing David Nugent, who has completed his ban (Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire).

Middlesbrough's Kike has impressed up front since replacing David Nugent, who has completed his ban (Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire).

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THE stakes simply could not be higher ahead of arguably the Championship’s game of the season today.

A packed Riverside will witness leaders Boro doing battle with the second-placed Rams, separated by a point at the top of the table and if there is a victor today, the psychological merit of winning is likely to be inestimable.

Boro head into the game on the back of a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday, extending their unbeaten sequence to seven games, with the Teessiders having not conceded a goal in that time –while Derby have been beaten just twice in the league so far this term.

Boro also secured another impressive statistic last time out, recording an eighth successive clean sheet at home to equal a 30-year record set in the mid-Eighties by revered former goalkeeper Stephen Pears, having also not conceded a Championship goal at the Riverside in 637 minutes.

As you would expect, the mutual respect between both camps is evident in a game which pitches the division’s home specialists with the side with the joint-best away record.

Back in the fray for Boro is striker David Nugent, who has completed a three-match ban, although head coach Aitor Karanka is remaining coy about whether he will start against the Rams ahead of Kike, who has impressed in his absence. “It will not be easy for Nugent to get back into the team because Kike is playing well.

“We have won all the games without David and so it is a very difficult choice for the game against Derby. I have to be fair with everybody and choose the right one. Kike has taken his opportunity. He has been working hard and playing really well.”

On Kike’s upturn after an indifferent spell earlier this season, the Boro head coach quipped: “I am really pleased because especially after the game against Reading, there were some doubts about him. I wanted to kill him!

“Now, everyone is really pleased with him again. But he is not the only player who can play in the front position. I have Stuani and David.”

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