Aitor Karanka wants Middlesbrough to roll out the welcome mat for former manager Steve McClaren this afternoon – but send him away empty-handed.
McClaren is the most successful manager in Boro’s history, having won the League Cup in 2004 – the club’s only major trophy – as well as reaching the final of the Uefa Cup and an FA Cup semi-final, and taking the club to its highest Premier League finish of seventh place.
Karanka would love to bring similar success to Boro, but in the meantime he hopes his predecessor is given a good reception when he brings his promotion-chasing Derby County side to the Riverside.
Karanka said: “It’s another difficult game because Derby are one of the best teams in the league with very good players and a very good manager. When a manager like Steve comes back to the club where he won the cup and enjoyed a lot of success, it’s important for our supporters to say thanks again and hello and give him a good welcome.
“He’s the most successful managers in the history of our club. But we need to win the game, we always play well at home and I’m confident in the team.”
McClaren’s Rams arrive on Teesside in fourth place, and with a play-off spot all but booked.
However their form has tailed off a little of late, with only two wins in their last six games – although they did win 3-0 at home to Charlton Athletic at the weekend.
And McClaren says he is looking forward to a ‘special’ return to the Riverside.
“It will be special to go back to Middlesbrough,” he said. “I went back there about a month ago for a function to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the club winning the Carling Cup as it was back then.
“My time at Middlesbrough was the ‘breakthrough time’ really, going from being a number two to being number one.
“Winning a trophy proved, I guess, that I could make the step. I had five great years there and I worked for some great people. We had some great players and great teams there and generated some excitement.”
Boro are 13th in the table, some 20 points behind Derby, but they also go into this afternoon’s game on the back of a morale-boosting win having beaten play-off hopefuls Brighton 2-0 at the Amex Stadium last Saturday.
“The most important thing for me was the performance at Brighton,” said Karanka. “Brighton are a team who try to play football and for this reason we could play good football as well. We put good pressure on them and I was happy. We scored two goals and this is the difference from other games, when we’ve had a lot of chances but haven’t scored.
“When my team plays like that I can’t say anything bad about my players.
“We deserved to win against a good Brighton team and this will make us more confident at home against Derby.” Boro will have to do without midfielder Dean Whitehead, who misses out through suspension after picking up his tenth booking of the season at Brighton.
Jonathan Woodgate (calf), Daniel Ayala (ankle), Rhys Williams (Achilles) and Stuart Parnaby (knee) are also ruled out.
Derby’s England Under 21 international midfielder Will Hughes is set to return to the squad after recovering from a hip injury.
Striker Jamie Ward has also resumed training after recovering from a hamstring problem.
But midfielder Simon Dawkins remains on the injury list.