PATRICK Bamford had the last laugh on Derby supporters by scoring the only goal for Middlesbrough in the crucial Championship clash at the top of the table.
Bamford scored his 14th league goal and 16th of season in all competitions to reinforce Middlebrough’s bid for automatic promotion and maintain his former club’s recent slide.
That is the sort of quality that he is capable of producing and that was what made the difference.
His goals were an important factor in carrying the Rams into the Championship play-off final last season but he was singled out for mocking in the 62nd minute when the ball bounced wide of goal off his shin from point blank range.
Two minutes later and it was Bamford’s turn to laugh as a typically sharp piece of finishing kept Boro’ level on points with Championship leaders Watford.
Derby were stung into their most aggressive attacking football of the game by the goal but a defence that has conceded only 27 in the Championship gave them few chances and it was Boro’ who went closest in injury time when Bamford, clean through, stumbled as she shot and scuffed his effort wide.
Boro boss Aitor Karanka said: “Nobody can be surprised by Patrick’s goal. He has taken the main responsibility for scoring and he has the confidence to make the most of his chances.
“This was a very important win and I was very pleased with the spirit we produced for such a big test. Derby are one of the best sides but we gave them very few chances and came away with a big win.
“Now we face more tough games against Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich so we must continue to show the same character.”
Derby manager Steve McClaren was at odds with the club’s fans when he saluted former Rams’ loanee Bamford for scoring Middlesbrough’s winner.
Bamford, who spent the second half of last season at the iPro Stadium, was jeered from the start by the home supporters but McClaren said his goal was the “one moment of special quality” as Boro won 1-0.
“That is the sort of quality that he is capable of producing and that was what made the difference,” he said.
“I was proud of the character my players showed but at the moment, with our injury problems, we can’t produce the one special moment that settles games like this.”
Victory moves second-placed Boro five points clear of Derby, who now sit fifth, but McClaren thought the defeat was harsh on his side.
“I didn’t think we deserved to lose but I’m not down about this game. We’ll have our injured players back after the international break that is coming up and I have no doubt that we will come back strong,” he added.
“Nothing is settled by any means. There are eight games to go and believe me, there will be many a twist and turn to come in this division.
“At the moment we are having the throw the youngsters in and have Johnny Russell playing on his own up front with a broken nose but things will be different when we have the big lads back to give us what we are lacking in the final third.”
Derby: Grant, Christie (Thomas 75), Keogh, Albentosa, Forsyth, Bryson, Hanson (Hendrick 70), Hughes, Ince, Russell, Ward (Lingard 70). Subs Not Used: Dawkins, Roos, Shotton, Warnock. Booked: Christie, Hughes, Bryson.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Kalas, Woodgate, Gibson, Friend, Leadbitter, Clayton, Tomlin (Reach 86), Vossen (Forshaw 81), Adomah (Nsue 90), Bamford. Subs Not Used: Kike, Ripley, Whitehead, Omeruo. Booked: Vossen, Clayton, Reach. Goals: Bamford 64.
Att: 31,939 Ref: Andy D’Urso (Essex).