MIDDLESBROUGH leapfrogged Derby County into, temporarily at least, top spot in the Sky Bet Championship in today’s early kick-off.
Not since the glory days under Rams boss Steve McClaren, highlighted by a League Cup win and UEFA Cup final appearance, have Boro fans had so much to feel optimistic about.
And Aitor Karanka’s men came out on top thanks to an inspirational performance from former County loanee Patrick Bamford, who scored eight times in 21 appearances during a spell at Pride Park last year.
Having set Boro on their way in the sixth minute, the Chelsea man - whose deal runs until the new year - won a second-half penalty that Grant Leadbitter converted.
Down to 10 men after Ryan Shotton had been dismissed in the build-up to the spot-kick, Derby could not find a response as McClaren lost on Teesside for the second successive campaign.
That left his former club looking down on the rest of the league, at least for a few hours, with Ipswich or Bournemouth both able to replace them with victory in their respective 3pm kick-offs.
Middlesbrough enjoyed a flying start as they took the lead through Bamford.
After finding space with some clever movement, the striker was left with the simple task of diverting Adam Reach’s clever pull-back in off the post for a sixth goal in seven games.
Derby looked rattled as their usually-crisp passing game faltered.
And they would have fallen further behind but for a stunning double-save by Lee Grant.
Having denied Bamford following a Leadbitter through-ball, the goalkeeper produced a stunning one-handed stop on the stretch to turn Jelle Vossen’s follow-up effort over the crossbar.
Undeterred, Boro continued to push forward, with Adam Reach hitting a 20-yard strike narrowly over crossbar.
The one-way traffic did not relent for the remainder of the half, although Derby were nearly gifted a leveller.
Dimi Konstantopoulos’ poor clearance flew straight to Johnny Russell, who fed Jeff Hendrick. However, the midfielder’s weak effort gave the goalkeeper an easy opportunity to atone.
McClaren made a double change at the interval in an attempt to spark a reversal of fortunes, Jordon Ibe and Leon Best replacing Simon Dawkins and Omar Mascarell.
Middlesbrough remained in the ascendancy, though, with Grant brilliantly keeping out a Leadbitter free-kick that had just evaded Daniel Ayala.
Boro were not made to pay for their misses, Shotton bringing down Bamford in the area following Vossen’s superb pass - allowing Leadbitter to hammer home from the spot.
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