Final Score: Derby County 2 Middlesbrough 1
TWO away games, two red cards and two defeats. Welcome to the Championship Aitor Karanka.
The Middlesbrough manager must be wondering what his side have done in the past to deserve such horrible luck and when a game will go by without some sort of controversy.
In his first game at Leeds United, Karanka saw Jason Steele sent off and his side go down 2-1 at Elland Road. Last night, Boro were back on the road this time at Derby County’s newly re-named iPro Stadium, and again there was a red card and a 2-1 defeat.
This time it was 21-year-old striker Curtis Main, who Karanka had given the opportunity to impress with a starting place. It was his first start of the season, but it ended abruptly when he was sent off in the 34th minute for two yellow cards.
Both bookings were harsh and it seemed as though the young striker was punished for being enthusiastic, but it gave the Teessiders a mountain to climb.
Chris Martin’s goal on the stroke of half time suggested Boro would be in for a long night, but Dean Whitehead’s second half equaliser gave the visitors hope until Connor Sammon broke their hearts with a 90th minute winner.
The result means Boro drop down a place to 16th in the table, but the gap between themselves and the bottom three has closed to four points.
Karanka made two changes to the side that beat Bolton with Whitehead coming in for the suspended Grant Leadbitter, while Main replaced Mustapha Carayol.
The Rams, who hadn’t lost at home since McLaren’s arrival at the beginning of October, started brightly with Will Hughes pulling the strings in midfield.
However, buoyed by their win at the weekend Boro also started well and played some nice football in the opening stages.
A nice move involving Albert Adomah, Richie Smallwood and Rhys Williams opened up an opportunity for the right-back, but his weak shot was saved comfortably by Lee Grant.
Boro responded well to a spell of pressure from the hosts and they had two great chances to go ahead. Whitehead slipped Kei Kamara in inside the area, but the striker hit his shot well over.
Moments later Kamara was again presented with an opportunity, but this time his acrobatic volley went inches wide.
Derby are the Championship’s highest scorers and it was easy to see why. They passed the ball around quickly and somehow managed to create space in a congested middle.
That meant there was acres of space down the channels and Derby’s John Eustace took advantage going on a good run down the right and forcing a save from Shay Given.
The Teessiders were more than holding their own against one of the league’s form sides, but that all changed in the 34th minute.
Booked earlier on in the half, Main was punished for his determination when referee Andrew Madley showed him a red card for a second yellow following a collision with Buxton.
The 21-year-old put his head in his hands before leaving the field with Boro fuming at the decision.
And they had every right to be. Main’s first yellow was for closing down a short back pass and challenging Grant, while the his second was equally harsh with the striker going in for a 50/50 ball.
The decision gave the home crowd a lift and within minutes of Main’s red card Craig Bryson forced a good save from Given.
The on-loan keeper made two more saves from Bryson and then Simon Dawkins, but seconds before 45 minutes was up Boro’s resolve was broken.
Bryson found space on the left and sent a dangerous ball into the box with Martin heading past Given from close range.
Karanka brought Carayol on for Jacob Butterfield at half-time with the hope that Boro could cause problems on the break, but for 20 minutes after the restart Derby were camped in Boro’s half with the visitors only chance coming from Kamara’s 55th minute header saved.
Buxton, who had been a thorn in Boro’s side from corners throughout, saw another headed effort cleared off the line by Kamara before Given made a brilliant save with his feet to deny.
Karanka’s decision to bring on Carayol was certainly a positive one given his side were behind, but the Spaniard’s boldness paid off when the lively winger played a pivotal role in drawing his side level.
The Gambian-born attacker broke into the box from his own half and pulled the ball back to the oncoming Richie Smallwood on the edge of the area. His shot deflected off Buxton and into the path of Whitehead, who tucked the ball home from close range to get Boro back into the game with 15 minutes remaining.
It gave the Teessiders a huge lift and after barely getting out of their own half for large parts they found themselves taking advantage of Derby’s complacency.
A Carayol effort was blocked after yet another run forward from the winger before Williams made a rare foray into the Rams’ box.
However, it wasn’t meant to be and despite all their hard work to get back on level terms, substitute Connor Sammon struck in the 90th minute to win it for Derby