Locked on 29 points, nothing separates Derby County and Middlesbrough ahead of this weekend’s latest round of Sky Bet Championship matches.
But ahead of his first return to the Riverside Stadium, David Nugent is looking to send out a statement to the rest of the division and leap-frog Boro in the play-off race with the Rams!
“I’m looking forward to it,” the 32-year-old told RamsTV ahead of the weekend. “I still speak to some of the lads up there and it has the makings of a decent game.
“Both teams are up there, both on the same points, and whilst we have got a game in hand it would be a good statement if we can go there and win the game.”
Nugent has been used to ‘statement’ wins throughout his career and played a crucial role for Middlesbrough as they won promotion to the Premier League in 2015/16.
He notably scored a crucial headed winner for Boro against Hull City and his experience was called upon for the last game of the season – against fellow promotion chasers Brighton & Hove Albion – to help see them over the line.
He said: “We needed a draw or a win to get promoted and I hadn’t played in the four games before that.
“The gaffer, though, pulled me to one side the day before the game and said that I would be starting on the last day of the season, saying that he could do with my experience.
“Thankfully it paid off because I set up the goal that meant we took the lead. We got promoted, but after Aitor brought in his own players, including Alvaro Negredo, I knew I thought my chances to play would be limited.
“Obviously, you want to play in the Premier League, but I’m not one of those players that is going to sit on the bench and not play.
“I would rather sign for someone else and go play another 46 games. That was the option I had with Derby, the one I chose, and I am very happy here.”
After helping the Rams claim four points from the last two outings since the international break – against Queens Park Rangers and Fulham – Nugent also touched on his partnership with Matej Vydra.
The Czech Republic international, Derby’s top scorer with nine so far this term, struck two crucial goals in those matches and his partner firmly believes he is proving how valuable he is for the club.
“He’s got nine goals already and you can see in his performances, particularly at home, that he is enjoying his football,” Nugent said.
“What we work on pays off in training and I think we have taken that forward into the matches. We’re good friends off the field too, he’s a young lad and with me being a bit older than he is, I try to talk him through games too.
“Vyds just needs to know that he is a good player and he is certainly showing that this season.
“It is easy to forget how young he is – I thought he was a lot older. I have got seven years on him, so it’s nice to have him helping out on the pitch.
“He’s full of confidence, he’s banging the goals in and long may that continue.”