BORO boss Aitor Karanka basked in the “best afternoon” of his managerial career after Middlesbrough rose to the summit of the Sky Bet Championship.
Patrick Bamford was the star of the show for Boro, opening the scoring in the fifth minute before winning the penalty that set up Grant Leadbitter’s second.
The second incident further hampered Derby, with Ryan Shotton shown a red card having been adjudged the last man.
That left Boro at the summit – albeit with Ipswich and Bournemouth having the chance to leapfrog them by winning in their respective 3pm kick-offs – and their manager extremely pleased.
Karanka, who served a touchline ban, said: “I think it’s the best afternoon of my career here.
“We played the best team in the league and are in a very good position in the table.
“It was a very good performance and I want to dedicate the victory to my staff because they are always with me.
“I could not be on the bench and they were brilliant once again.”
The big games come thick and fast for Middlesbrough, with a trip to promotion rivals Ipswich quickly on the horizon.
Karanka is fully aware expectations have been raised on Teesside, although he guarded against complacency.
He added: “I cannot manage the expectations outside the changing room. In the changing room, the expectations are the same.
“We are playing against teams that are around us in the coming weeks. Today was Derby, then we have Ipswich.
“We have four or five games now against teams towards the top of the table but it is important that we focus on each game. The next game is always the most important.”
Boro enjoyed a flying start as they took the lead through Bamford.
After finding space with some clever movement, the striker was left with the simple task of diverting Adam Reach’s clever pull-back in off the post for a sixth goal in seven games.
Derby looked rattled as their usually-crisp passing game faltered.
And they would have fallen further behind but for a stunning double-save by Lee Grant.
Having denied Bamford following a Leadbitter through-ball, the goalkeeper produced a stunning one-handed stop on the stretch to turn Jelle Vossen’s follow-up effort over the crossbar.
Undeterred, Boro continued to push forward, with Adam Reach hitting a 20-yard strike narrowly over crossbar.
The one-way traffic did not relent for the remainder of the half, although Derby were nearly gifted a leveller.
Dimi Konstantopoulos’ poor clearance flew straight to Johnny Russell, who fed Jeff Hendrick. However, the midfielder’s weak effort gave the goalkeeper an easy opportunity to atone.
McClaren made a double change at the interval in an attempt to spark a reversal of fortunes, Jordon Ibe and Leon Best replacing Simon Dawkins and Omar Mascarell.
Middlesbrough remained in the ascendancy, though, with Grant brilliantly keeping out a Leadbitter free-kick that had just evaded Daniel Ayala.
Boro were not made to pay for their misses, Shotton bringing down Bamford in the area following Vossen’s superb pass – allowing Leadbitter to hammer home from the spot.
The ever-dangerous Bamford twice stung the hands of Grant afterwards, yet it mattered little as Middlesbrough took the points - albeit with the help of a superb Konstantopoulos save that stopped Craig Bryson setting up a tense finale.