The New Year begins with a bang this weekend, with the Sky Bet Championship’s top two clubs locking horns at the Riverside Stadium.Middlesbrough and Derby County will meet in their first outings of 2016, with a place at the summit of The Football League on offer to the victor.
Hosts Boro go into the game as leaders, and have also played one game fewer than their opponents after their Boxing Day clash with Blackburn Rovers was postponed due to unsuitable playing conditions.
That abandoned match gave Paul Clement’s side the opportunity to round off 2015 at the top, and they began well in pursuit of that feat - taking victory against Fulham.
Boro did their bit to claw back some ground on Monday, edging Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 to extend their unbeaten run to seven games, but Derby could only draw with Leeds United the following day to eventually sit one point adrift of their rivals.
The two sides featured heavily in the race for promotion and the Play-Offs in 2014/15 - with both eventually falling short of the automatic places. Aitor Karanka’s men went closest, going down 2-0 in the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final to Norwich City, while Derby missed out on the top six all together after a dramatic last-day defeat to Reading.
And it’s Derby who have struggled in this fixture of late, winning just one of the last five against Boro. Kike and Johnny Russell scored for their respective sides in their 1-1 draw back in August, but Boro have claimed the spoils in the three games prior to that.
Those triumphs have all been to nil - 1-0, 2-0, 1-0 - meaning Derby haven’t claimed all three points against them for more than two years.
Can the Rams alter their recent record against Middlesbrough? Our divisional Twitter feed will be following all the action this Saturday - follow @SkyBetChamp.