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McClaren makes Middlesbrough return with Rams in top four clash

Middlesbrough, who have lost once in 15 Championship matches, face their sternest test yet when old boss Steve McClaren, who steered the Teesside outfit to a League Cup triumph and UEFA Cup final appearance, brings his table-topping Derby County team to the Riverside.

Coral currently make these two teams their favourites for Championship promotion, with the visiting Rams odds-on at 1/2 and Boro 13/10 chances to go up. Something will have to give here, though, but will it be Derby’s status as league leaders or that great run the hosts have been on under Aitor Karanka?

It’s McClaren’s men that are made narrow 11/5 favourites for victory, with Middlesbrough 13/10 for a first home win in three attempts. A draw, which is rare in this fixture (and when it does happen it tends to be a high-scoring one), comes in at 9/4.

Punters would be advised to remember County have lost two of their last three away games at Brentford and Leeds United, though that is tempered by victory at another genuine promotion rival in Watford, with its revolving door of managers. Boro, meanwhile, last suffered defeat at home back in August.

Karanka, a disciple of Jose Mourinho after working under him as assistant at Real Madrid, must watch from the stands for this crunch clash, because he picked up a touchline ban. The Spaniard’s presence will be a miss, but his influence will still be writ large over his players.

Using his existing relationship with Mourinho made it possible to bring highly-rated Chelsea youngster and former Nottingham Forest academy product Patrick Bamford, who spent time on loan last term at Pride Park, up to Middlesbrough. The England Under-21 international has scored in five of his last six outings, so is well worth backing to haunt his former club the anytime market at 7/4.

Last time out Boro battered Millwall in the hostile environment of the Lions’ London Den. Three of the five goals they netted in the capital came courtesy of Belgian frontman Jelle Vossen. A repeat performance against a Derby defence, which is the third best in the division, may seem rather fanciful at 33/1, but he is a tasty 6/1 shot to grab the opener here.

Enrique Garcia Martinez, aka Kike, has matched Bamford’s seven across all competitions for Middlesbrough so far, so the Spanish striker also poses a threat up front. He is shorter than the on-loan Chelsea youngster, though, at 6/4 to score again anytime.

The Rams must also be wary of Grant Leadbitter, who is proficient from dead balls. Tasty odds of 10/3 say he will net anytime for Karanka’s hosts.

McClaren has top scorer Chris Martin firing again, after the Scotland striker bagged a brace in County’s last outing against struggling Brighton and Hove Albion, who ironically face the side Boro hammered previously in Millwall. Back Martin for two goals or more at the Riverside at 8/1, or a safer 11/2 to grab the opener, having done so in the reverse fixture last term.

Compatriot Johnny Russell has four in his last five, and that makes him a tempting 2/1 chance to net anytime. This is a really tough match to call, and odds for a 2-2 draw might be worth a shout at 14/1.