MIDDLESBROUGH return on New Year’s Day to the venue of arguably their best performance of Tony Pulis’s era hoping for a re-run.
Plenty has changed since Boro’s 2-1 success in Derby in late April on an occasion when then winger Adama Traore inspired them to victory at Pride Park to virtually rubber-stamp play-off participation.
But now, as then, Boro find themselves in the top six and despite some indifferent recent form the Teesside club remain strong candidates for further involvement in the play-offs.
Pulis’s side were somewhat fortunate to claim a point in a flattering point in a 1-1 draw at the Riverside Stadium in October on a day when Derby handed the hosts a footballing lesson.
But Boro dug deep just as they did in Saturday’s much-needed victory over Ipswich Town and must continue to do so during a month when recruitment will prove every bit as important as events on the pitch.
Huddersfield Town winger Rajiv van La Parra has become the club’s first addition with further incomings and outgoings expected during what promises to be a busy month.
The 27-year-old will stay at Boro for the rest of the season after passing his medical on Teesside.
No agreement has been made for the switch to become permanent in the summer, meaning van La Parra will return to the John Smith’s Stadium.
He joined Town, initially on loan, three years ago and he has made 97 appearances.
Pulis said: “Everyone understands that we need to address certain areas, but it is not just ins, it is players going out that is important.
“It’s always been my own policy to work alongside the financial side of all the clubs that I’ve managed.
“The (Boro) chairman has always backed the manager, but there comes a time when reality has to click in and I will again strive to get the balance right.”
The Rams head into the game on the back of a dramatic last-gasp victory at second-placed Norwich City, which cut the gap between themselves and the Canaries to just six points.
With Derby level on points with fifth-placed Boro, Tuesday’s game assumes much significance to both at the start of 2019.
The chairman has always backed the manager (here), but there comes a time when reality has to click in and I will again strive to get the balance right.Middlesbrough coach, Tony Pulis
Last six games: Derby WWDDLW Middlesbrough DLLWLW.
Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).
Last time: Derby 1 Middlesbrough 2; April 21, 2018; Championship.