STEVE McClaren says it will be special to make his first return to Middlesbrough as the opposition manager tomorrow, but he insists there is no room for sentiment.
Derby County’s head coach takes his team to the Riverside Stadium, kick-off 3pm, looking to further strengthen their position in the Championship’s play-off places.
McClaren became Middlesbrough’s most successful manager in his five years at the Teesside club.
He guided them to their highest finish in the top division since 1975 and to a League Cup triumph against Bolton Wanderers in 2004.
They also reached the UEFA Cup final in 2006 before he left to take charge of the England national team.
But that is in the past. McClaren has his eyes very much on Derby County now and what the future might hold as the Rams eye promotion to the Premier League.
“It will be special going back and pretty strange being in the opposite dugout,” said McClaren.
“I still live in the area and so I know the people. I went back about a month ago because it was the 10th anniversary of the League Cup win.
“Middlesbrough was the breakthrough for me as a manager, going from a number two to a number one, and winning something which proved I could make the step.
“I had five great years there and worked for some very good people, and a great chairman in Steve Gibson.
“Over the five years we had some teams, and some players, and some exciting times.
“It is a region that needs its football and a successful team.
“It is like Derby in that its football, and the football club, is the heartbeat of the place.
“But the total focus on Saturday is on us performing and trying to win.”
Will Hughes is available again following a hip flexor problem, but Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins remain sidelined.
“Will trained this week and is fit for Saturday,” said McClaren.
“Ward is coming back, and will hopefully be available next week. Dawkins probably the week after. We need these players back for the run-in.”
The form of Jeff Hendrick means Hughes faces a battle to win back his place in the side.
“Jeff has been great,” said McClaren. “We were also disappointed to lose John Eustace for two games but George Thorne has come in and done great as well.
“The midfield has kind of been our strength all season. It has got such energy and can play, so whatever combination we play has been very good.”
Middlesbrough away is the first of three games in eight days for Derby. They travel to Blackpool on Tuesday and are at home to Huddersfield Town a week tomorrow.
Derby beat Middlesbrough 2-1 in December thanks to a last-gasp winning goal from substitute Conor Sammon.
“Middlesbrough have been inconsistent this season, but they are capable of beating any team in the league,” said McClaren.
“(new boss Ivor) Karanka has come in, got them organised and they are harder to beat but still playing good football.
“They have got dangerous players, good players, so we need to be at our best and toughest to get a result.”
Goals from Kwame Thomas and Offrande Zanzala gave Derby Under-21s a 2-0 victory over Coventry City at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium yesterday in Division Two North of the Professional Development League.
DERBY U21s: Roos; Hendrie, Hanson, Dawkins, Berry, Lelan, Hayes, Wassall, Thomas (Capitani, 90), Vernam (Clennett, 86), Guy (Zanzala, 79); other subs: Barnes (gk), Rawson