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SLIDESHOW: Middlesbrough 1, Derby County 0

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: April 07, 2014

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MANAGER, coaches and players are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Derby County’s sole focus on the run-in is on what they do, not what others do, and that is the right approach.

But when the performance falls short, as it did against Middlesbrough, it quickly becomes about what others have done.

It is only natural to then glance at the results of rivals.

Derby’s disappointing display at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday was not in the script, nor expected, but some comfort was taken from the shortcomings of others.

Defeat – a fourth in the last eight games – did little damage to the Rams’ task of securing a play-off place.

They have looked nailed on to do so for some weeks now and this was only strengthened at the weekend as others faltered.

Top-six pretenders Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town lost, while Brighton drew.

So Derby’s points cushion remains at 11 – plus a superior goal difference – with only 18 left up for grabs.

Wigan and Reading won to jostle Derby for finishing positions in the top six, but Queen’s Park Rangers continue to show their inconsistency.

They fell at Bournemouth, whose excellent run of seven wins in nine matches has handed them an outside chance of a play-off spot.

Defeats for QPR and Derby saw Leicester City promoted, and deservedly so.

Nobody can argue that the Foxes and Burnley have been the best two sides in the Championship this season.

Burnley also deserve to go up. The Clarets, sitting pretty in second, enjoy a 10-point advantage over the chasing pack.

So there we have the current standings, but what about the game at Middlesbrough?

Drab for the most part and instantly forgettable best sums up the 90 minutes.

The first half was poor, the second half marginally better.

Derby went into the contest with seven clean sheets in 10 matches, Middlesbrough seven in 12.

The safe bet was a goalless draw, and that exact result was likely until on-loan midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah popped up to fire a low shot across Lee Grant after 69 minutes to give Middlesbrough a 1-0 victory.

Middlesbrough will be delighted with the win as they edge in the right direction.

They have suffered only one defeat in seven during a sequence that has seen them play QPR, Derby, Brighton, Forest, Ipswich and Bournemouth.

But where there is delight in football, there is disappointment.

Rams head coach Steve McClaren received generous applause from the Middlesbrough fans on his first return to the Riverside as the opposition manager.

McClaren, Boro’s most successful manager, then watched his Rams team produce an uncharacteristically flat performance.

Their tempo was too slow, their usual energy and urgency missing. Derby were lethargic by the standards they have set this season.

Jeff Hendrick and Johnny Russell tried to spark the side with their direct running, but when Derby ventured into positions of promise in the final third, the end product deserted them.

Middlesbrough fared little better.

Lee Tomlin and Albert Adomah threatened to deliver on occasions, without doing so.

The best chance of the first half fell to Tomlin, who with time and space only managed to shoot weakly straight at Grant.

Derby’s defence, led by skipper Richard Keogh, defended corners and free kicks, and chances were in short supply.

The sorry statistics of the game showed that between them, the two sides mustered only five efforts on target from 24 attempts.

Chalobah’s first goal in 10 appearances for Middlesbrough was a tidy finish and gave them a seventh win in eight home meetings against a Derby side who continue to struggle at the Riverside.

The Rams’ last win on Teeside was a 4-1 victory in a Premier League fixture in January 2000.

Middlesbrough might have doubled their lead had Adomah been able to control George Friend’s fierce cross-shot with the goal at his mercy.

There was also a half chance for a late equaliser when Rams defender Jake Buxton stretched to poke the ball wide from Craig Bryson’s curling free kick.

Only one away win in eight games is a slight concern with the play-offs looming.

Derby plugged away but the feel of the performance was never right.

This can happen in football and McClaren cut a frustrated figure in the technical area second half.

He places great emphasis on performance but results are everything at this stage of the season, and this was a missed opportunity.

Faint hopes of automatic promotion may now be even fainter, but Derby’s play-off position remains secure.

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