Ipswich Town are back on the road as they travel to the Riverside Stadium to face Middlesbrough this afternoon (3pm). Alex Jones previews the action.

East Anglian Daily Times: Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna have worked together as players and coachesMichael Carrick and Kieran McKenna have worked together as players and coaches (Image: PA Images)

Carrick and McKenna come full circle

Much of Kieran McKenna’s career in football has had something to do with Michael Carrick.

The two men spent time together at Tottenham Hotspur as players, starting off in the reserves. Carrick, of course, wasn’t there for very long, and his playing career ended up taking him to extraordinary heights. McKenna retired a few years later due to injury and took up coaching.

They reunited at Manchester United. McKenna was coaching at the academy as Carrick’s career came to an end, but their friendship grew after becoming assistant managers under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ralf Rangnick’s appointment saw them head in separate directions. McKenna dropped down to League One to manage Ipswich, while Carrick’s profile helped him land a Championship job at Middlesbrough.

Both men have excelled since heading in separate directions, but they’ve kept in touch as close friends. Today, they’ll stand in opposite dugouts for the first time, which will surely be a surreal experience for both.

East Anglian Daily Times: Chuba Akpom and Cameron Archer scored 39 Championship goals between them last seasonChuba Akpom and Cameron Archer scored 39 Championship goals between them last season (Image: PA Images)

Devastating departures

Carrick’s appointment at the Riverside Stadium reinvigorated Middlesbrough. They dropped down the table under Chris Wilder, yet the former Manchester United midfielder managed to turn them into a strong attacking unit, guiding them to the Championship play-offs after a remarkable run of form in the second half of the season.

They fell just short, losing out to Coventry City over two legs. It was always going to be tough to bounce back from that.

Top scorer Chuba Akpom, who bagged 28 goals as an attacking in the Championship last season, was expected to stay. However, interest grew as time ticked on, and when Ajax came calling, the prospect of joining a European heavyweight was too difficult to turn down.

Boro also lost two crucial loanees who’ve since gone on to play in the Premier League. Cameron Archer found the back of the net 11 times last season, returning to parent club Aston Villa before being sold to Sheffield United. Swashbuckling wing-back Ryan Giles also earned a top-flight move after failing to make an appearance for Wolves, joining Luton Town in July.

Their summer signings have looked solid, if not spectacular. Morgan Rogers, Lewis O’Brien and Seny Dieng all boast Championship experience, while Sam Greenwood’s arrival from Leeds United looks to be a real coup.

They have, however, focused on recruiting from abroad, which has both benefits and drawbacks. Emmanuel Latte Lath looks to finally be hitting form after arriving from Atalanta, while Australian international Samuel Silvera is also getting regular minutes. The others are still trying to find their feet in North Yorkshire.

East Anglian Daily Times: Dael Fry is one of eight Middlesbrough players who could miss today's game through injuryDael Fry is one of eight Middlesbrough players who could miss today's game through injury (Image: PA Images)

Boro’s big injury list

It’s worth starting with Ipswich here, even though they’ve had their full squad in training ahead of today’s game, with the exception of long-term absentee Lee Evans (knee).

Massimo Luongo and Brandon Williams are both suspended after reaching five yellow cards, which will be particularly painful for the former, who misses out on a big game against his former team.

Middlesbrough have a lot more issues, however.

Joint-top scorer Isaiah Jones and versatile defender Anfernee Dijksteel are both suspended after accruing five bookings, but the injuries are the real concern. Boro may be without as many as eight players this afternoon, although Carrick has kept his cards close to his chest in terms of updates.

Dael Fry (hamstring), Hayden Hackney (groin), Lewis O’Brien (ankle), Marcus Forss (thigh), Paddy McNair (back), Riley McGree (foot), Darragh Lenihan and Tommy Smith (both Achilles) are all doubts going into the game.

There must be something in the water up on Teesside.

East Anglian Daily Times: Conor Chaplin is expecting a tough test in North YorkshireConor Chaplin is expecting a tough test in North Yorkshire (Image: Ross Halls)

Praise from Chaplin

Joint-top scorer Conor Chaplin was full of praise for Middlesbrough, having closely followed their run to the Championship play-offs last season.

“I think it’ll be a really tough game,” he said.

“They’ve got good players and they’re a really well-coached team. They obviously had a lot of success last season in terms of coming up in the table, they looked so strong and made the play-offs.

“They’re a good footballing team. Michael Carrick has done a great job since he’s been there.

“Hopefully it’ll be a good football game, a good game for the neutral, and one that we’re really looking forward to.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Kieran McKenna has admitted that he has one eye on next week's games against Watford and Norwich CityKieran McKenna has admitted that he has one eye on next week's games against Watford and Norwich City (Image: Ross Halls)

A huge week

Town’s festive fixtures have been a major talking point since the start of the season. Today’s game marks the start of a huge week and a huge period for the Blues.

They’ll face three games in a seven-day period, starting with the trip to Middlesbrough. After that, they’ll have just over 72 hours to recover, prepare and travel to Watford, who they face at Vicarage Road on Tuesday evening.

If that’s not enough, they’ll go straight into the first East Anglian derby in four years, which will undoubtedly be their biggest home game of the season. All the nervous excitement will build up to that third game, but they still have two hurdles to jump before then.

The travel will be brutal, with Ipswich set to clock up more than 700 miles for their next two games. Rotation will be key, but McKenna will want to put out three strong teams. That’s a hard balance to find.

At least they’ll have a week off before facing Leeds United and Leicester City either side of Christmas. The Championship is simply relentless.