Middlesbrough v Derby County: Boro ready for another keynote test against the Rams

BACK in the mid-Seventies, Middlesbrough and Derby County played out a fateful fixture for both teams on Teesside and another big occasion awaits this lunch-time.

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka

The game might not be of quite the same magnitude as the encounter on April 5, 1975 when Jack Charlton’s Boro entertained Dave Mackay’s Rams in a huge fixture for both sides at the old Ayresome Park, but it is considerable nevertheless.

A crowd of 30,066 saw Derby clinch a last-gasp leveller from former Bradford Park Avenue goal machine Kevin Hector in a 1-1 draw after Whitby-born David Mills had given Boro the lead.

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That Hector strike, which played its part in helping the East Midlanders win the Division One title that 1974-75 season, was rued by seasoned Boro supporters for many years, and is widely considered to have cost the Teessiders’ qualification for Europe for the first time.

Of course, that subsequently arrived in the Noughties, culminating in Boro’s run to the Uefa Cup final in 2006.

The present-day Boro have their sights set on rewinding the clock to those heady days of the previous decade when the club were dining at the top-flight table. Victory in today’s televised lunchtime match with Derby carries with it a considerable incentive for Boro, who will leapfrog the Rams into top spot if they win – although it may only be for a few hours.

For Aitor Karanka, who serves a one-match touchline ban following events at the end of their last home game, a controversial 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers, it is another keynote game in Boro’s campaign, which is starting to capture the imagination of the Teesside public.

Under no illusions about the toughness of today’s test, Karanka, whose side beat the Rams 1-0 at the Riverside Stadium in April thanks to a 69th-minute goal from former loan player Nathaniel Chalobah, said: “The next game is going to be very difficult because Derby are the best team in the league.

“They were last season very close to getting promotion so they are tough opponents. They were very close to promotion last season and they have kept working the same way with the same manager.

“They have some better players and they are improving every single day.

“So last season, they were good and this season they are better. But we have to think about ourselves because when we play in the way we know we can, we can beat anyone.”