Patrick Bamford came back to haunt Derby County last night and dent their faltering promotion challenge while guiding Middlesbrough to second in the Championship table on goal difference with eight matches remaining.
Bamford, the 21-year-old on-loan Chelsea striker who scored eight goals in a four-month spell with Derby last season, struck the winner midway through the second half to increase his tally for Middlesbrough to 16.
Derby, who drop to fifth after just two wins in their last nine Championship matches, are now five points adrift of the automatic promotion place that seemed theirs for the taking after a post-Christmas run of six victories in seven matches.
Derby’s loss of momentum has coincided exactly with the absence of leading scorer Chris Martin, along with other key players sidelined with injury, forcing manager Steve McClaren to play the 19-year-old rookie Jamie Hanson in the key midfield holding role in his 4-3-3 system. McClaren is banking on the upcoming international break to allow his squad some recovery time ahead of the run-in.
With Darren Bent also out injured, McClaren played a winger, Johnny Russell, in the central striker’s position, and a well-marshalled Middlesbrough defence, in which 35-year-old Jonathan Woodgate made only his third start of the season in place of the injured Daniel Ayala, were able to keep Derby chances to a minimum.
They did create the first opportunity, when Jamie Ward failed to convert a low cross by Cyrus Christie, but Boro’s next meaningful attack produced two shots on target, goalkeeper Lee Grant reacting superbly to repel Albert Adomah’s low drive before Richard Keogh blocked Jelle Vossen’s follow up.
Grant had a moment of good fortune later when his own misplaced clearance left him stranded near the edge of his penalty area as Vossen took aim at the unguarded net from 40 yards but hit the post.
Middlesbrough’s goal was well deserved and highlighted their ability to turn defence swiftly into attack. Lee Tomlin supported Bamford’s run through the middle and slipped the perfect pass to the Nottingham-born striker, who rounded Grant before stretching out a long leg to guide the ball into the net.
Derby County (4-3-3): Grant; Christie (Thomas, 75), Keogh, Albentosa, Forsyth; Hughes, Hanson (Hendrick, 70), Bryson; Ince, Russell, Ward (Lingard, 70). Substitutes not used Roos (gk), Dawkins, Shotton, Warnock.
Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Konstantopoulos; Kalas, Woodgate, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Leadbitter; Adomah (Nsue, 91), Vossen (Forshaw, 81), Tomlin (Reach, 86); Bamford. Substitutes not used Ripley (gk), Garcia, Whitehead, Omeruo.
Referee A D’Urso (Essex).Reuse content