FOR THE second time in four seasons, Middlesbrough head into their first home league game of a new year in buoyant mood against a visiting Derby side.
Not that a grounded Jonathan Woodgate is getting ahead of himself. Far from it.
Just over four years ago, Boro – then well placed for automatic promotion – welcomed a Rams side at the start of 2016 and ran out impressive 2-0 winners in a key televised game at the top end of the Championship, thanks to late goals from George Friend and Albert Adomah.
It came on the back of an outstanding festive season, which saw Aitor Karanka win the Championship manager-of-the-month award for December 2015.
Four years on and Boro are in high spirits ahead of their latest Riverside meeting with Derby, with head coach Woodgate having also been bestowed with kudos after winning the managerial gong for December.
But this is a game where we cannot be complacent. The fans are maybe thinking: ‘this is three points.’ It isn’t.Jonathan Woodgate
But just as the Boro head coach stuck to his principles in tougher times and remained calm, so he is keeping level-headed and is anxious not to detect any vestiges of complacency in his players this afternoon.
Woodgate, whose side have lost just once in their past seven league games to pull away from the relegation zone, said: “We had a really good December and it was important that we started to get wins on the board.
“To get four on the spin and go away and get results was fantastic.
“Derby have been inconsistent this season in losing three top players. Like we have found out, it can be really difficult. He (Phillip Cocu) has got a difficult job there and I understand the problems he is going through
“But this is a game where we cannot be complacent. The fans are maybe thinking: ‘this is three points.’ It isn’t.
“I have been trying to drum into my players this week that complacency kills.
“We need to keep on winning games by doing what we have been lately – by running that extra yard and playing aggressive football and getting forward.”
Boro welcome a legend of the game today in Rams’ head coach Wayne Rooney and while his zip is not quite what it was in his heyday, Woodgate is alert to the quality that he brings to the table.
He added: “Wayne has been a top player in his teams and he is still a very, very good player.
“It is important that we get close to him as he can dictate a game.
“But it is not just about Wayne, they have got some really good players.”