The first weekend of 2016 is upon us, and what a mouth-watering match we have to kick off the New Year as league leaders Middlesbrough take on second place Derby County at the Riverside Stadium.
Middlesbrough have a game in hand, but are just one point ahead of Sky Bet Championship rivals Derby, and neither side can afford a slip up after third place Hull City beat QPR 2-1 on New Year’s Day.
Both teams are on good unbeaten runs, with Boro’ unbeaten in seven while the Rams’ run extends one game longer.
There isn’t much to choose between the sides. Their goal differences are the same, although Middlesbrough have won six out of seven, while Derby have won five of eight.
Paul Clement’s side have failed to score in three games out of the previous four meetings between these two sides, and the Rams will look to end a miserable record at the Riverside by avoiding a ninth defeat in their last ten visits.
FootballLeagueWorld writer Anthony Yeo identifies three things to look out for in this afternoon’s top-of-the-table clash…
1) David Nugent
The 30-year-old striker returns from suspension, although manager Aitor Karanka has stated that he will not walk straight back into the side.
Whether he starts or not, the forward will almost definitely play a part in the match and you wouldn’t count against him being among the goal action if he comes off the bench.
Although he has only scored five goals, he provides an aerial threat and that bit of muscle up front to unsettle the Derby defenders.
2) Jeff Hendrick
Hendrick is targeting more goals after getting his first against Leeds United in the 2-2 draw earlier in the week.
The creative midfielder has made 26 appearances for the Rams and will be keen to get his name on the scoresheet again against Middlesbrough today.
The Middlesbrough defence must be on full alert to prevent this young Irish midfielder from making an impact in the game.
3) Chris Martin
Martin could be recalled to the starting line-up by manager Clement.
Martin scored 10 goals in 26 appearances in 2015 and, after coming on as substitute against Leeds and making an impact on the game, he will now be pushing for a return to the starting eleven.
The robust Scottish international will provide Derby with power up front and cause the Middlesbrough defence difficulties.
Middlesbrough and Derby fans… What do you think the outcome will be? Do you think your team will win the Championship? Where do you need to strengthen in January? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!