START the New Year as you mean to go on, right? Not if you’re Middlesbrough.
For the second time in successive seasons, Tony Mowbray’s side got the New Year off to the worst possible start after a well-deserved 3-1 defeat at the hands of Derby County on the first day of 2013.
Boro arrived at Pride Park looking to keep the pressure on the Championship’s top two, Cardiff City and Hull City, but they were unravelled far too easily by a team eight places below them in the table.
After two consecutive home wins over Blackburn and Blackpool, Boro came to the East Midlands in high spirits, but the historians would have pointed to the Teessiders’ New Year’s Day records in search of a probable result at Pride Park for Boro have never kept a clean sheet away from the Riverside on New Year’s Day and have won once in 113 years.
It was pretty clear from the early stages of the game that Boro weren’t about to break that record and goals from Michael Jacobs, Jeff Hendrick and Connor Sammon condemned the visitors to another New Year’s Day defeat with Lukas Jutkiewicz scoring a stoppage time consolation.
Mowbray will hope his side don’t go on to repeat their run from the start of 2012, which saw the Teessiders go five games without a win after the 3-0 defeat to Blackpool at Bloomfield Road almost a year to the day.
That run played a big part in Boro’s failure to make the play-offs last May and a similar run would be cause for concern again Yesterday’s defeat saw Boro ship three goals, but it also saw captain Jonathan Woodgate limp off in the first half. Mowbray insists January will be a quiet month on the transfer front even though a growing list of injuries is beginning to make his squad look extremely stretched.
The Boro boss made three changes to the side that beat Blackpool on Saturday with Jutkiewicz, Adam Reach and Stuart Parnaby coming in.
Marvin Emnes, Ishmael Miller and Justin Hoyte all made way with Mowbray forced to name two 21-year-old defenders – Christian Burgess and Paul Weldon – on the bench without a competitive appearance between them.
The pair’s inclusion demonstrated the lack of options Mowbray has at the moment with injuries keeping the likes of Emnes, McEachran, Friend and Hoyte on the sidelines.
The same team that finished Saturday’s win over Blackpool started at Pride Park, but they came out the blocks sluggishly with Nigel Clough’s side taking control in the early stages.
They looked comfortable on the ball and restricted the visitors to their own half for large spells.
Boro’s league position demonstrates just how strong the first half of the season has been, but at Pride Park something was missing and there were uncharacteristic, sloppy mistakes creeping in all over the field.
They were slow to start and their failure to react quickly saw the Rams take a 19th minute lead.
Scott McDonald conceded a free-kick on the right and Ben Davies took advantage of Boro’s slow start by cutting his low free-kick back to Michael Jacobs, who hit a low shot past Steele from an unmarked position inside the area.
Jacobs’ strike was the first shot on target for either side and they continued to dominate after taking the lead.
Mowbray finally got a response ten minutes later when Jutkiewicz’s parried shot fell to Parnaby on the edge of the area, but he blasted a first-time shot that shaved the crossbar.
They finally had a shot on target to their name, but things took a turn for the worse when Jonathan Woodgate limped off in the 36th minute to be replaced by Kevin Thomson.
Nicky Bailey moved into defence to fill the gap left by Woodgate, but little over five minutes after losing their captain, Boro lost another goal.
Ben Davies saw his 25-yard free-kick sail inches over the bar, but the hosts made it two in the 43rd minute and what a strike it was.
Boro failed to clear the ball on two attempts and they were punished for that when Jeff Hendrick hit a 20-yard pile driver past Steele.
It could have been three moments later when Davies tried his luck from a second free kick, but this time his effort struck the crossbar. Boro looked shell-shocked.
Parnaby forced Rams’ keeper Adam Legzdins into action before the break, but Boro went in at half time looking lost.
It was one of their poorest halves this season and it didn’t appear to be getting any better immediately after the break.
Steele saved Connor Sammon’s shot after Derby broke forward quickly and Bailey did well to clear the striker’s follow-up off the line.
Last January’s 3-0 defeat to Blackpool was an awful way to start 2012 and Boro seemed hell bent on starting 2013 in the same way when they let in a third goal at Pride Park.
Jacobs sent a low shot towards goal from inside the area and Steele could only parry the ball straight into the path of Sammon, who finished from close range.
Jutkiewicz pulled back a mere consolation in stoppage time, but the damage had been done in the first half with Derby fully deserving the three points.