Derby County face Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday evening and one player who may have extra reason to impress is defender Paddy McNair.
The former Sunderland man has started all 12 games for Boro this season.
McNair, who so often featured as a utility man, has found a regular place at the heart of Neil Warnock’s defence and has contributed greatly to their excellent defensive record.
But it could have been very different for the Northern Ireland international.
According to the Mirror (live entry blog, June 02 2018, at 14:55), Derby were battling Boro for his signature with the latter finally securing a £5 million deal for him.
McNair, however, struggled to settle at Boro in his debut campaign and TEAMtalk claimed Derby were in for him again during the summer of 2019 prior to Frank Lampard’s exit.
Ultimately, a switch to Pride Park never materialised with McNair remaining on Teesside.
The player’s situation under Jonathan Woodgate appeared difficult. However, Warnock has given McNair a new lease of life and he is starting to show his potential.
Boro have conceded just six league goals this season, boasting the best defensive record to date with McNair averaging 2.7 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game.
On Wednesday, Boro’s defence meets the league’s most toothless attack.
Derby have scored just five goals in their 12 league games so far. No Championship team has scored fewer goals at this stage of the season.
The Rams’ woeful form, which includes just one win and eight defeats, cost Phillip Cocu his job with Wayne Rooney part of a four-man coaching team currently in charge.
Derby need to find a spark and start scoring goals. Boro, however, will prove a tough nut to crack while McNair will be looking to extend his fine early-season form.