Ipswich Town look to return to winning ways as they host Middlesbrough at Portman Road. Alex Jones previews the action.

East Anglian Daily Times: Kieran McKenna's side have their fate in their own hands with four games to goKieran McKenna's side have their fate in their own hands with four games to go (Image: Ross Halls)

The state of play

Let’s start by looking at the promotion race. The top three all dropped points in midweek and all of the sides failed to score. Heading into the weekend, it saw Leicester City sit top with 88 points with Town behind on goal difference alone, and then Leeds United in third on 87 points.

The Foxes played last night, making the long trip down to Devon to play Plymouth Argyle and losing 1-0 to a Mustapha Bundu strike in the first half. It means that Ipswich have another chance to go top of the Championship.

Daniel Farke’s side are up next, hosting a Blackburn Rovers side who still need to pick up points to secure safety in the Championship.

The Blues play last of the three once again, which could be a help or a hindrance. Whether the knowledge that they could go top on Wednesday night could play a part remains to be seen.

Ipswich then head into a two-week break. In that time, Leicester will face two tough home games against West Brom and Southampton while Leeds head to Middlesbrough. We’ll know an awful lot about the promotion picture by the end of that.

East Anglian Daily Times: The Blues have failed to score from 25 shots in their last two gamesThe Blues have failed to score from 25 shots in their last two games (Image: Stephen Waller)

Let’s score some goals!

For the second time this season (and, in fact, since October 2022), Town have failed to score in consecutive games.

The last time came either side of the new year. Looking physically fatigued and mentally drained after a nightmarish run of fixtures, Kieran McKenna’s men slogged their way through a goalless draw against QPR at the end of December before playing out the same scoreline away at Stoke City on New Year’s Day.

They lacked that real spark and cutting edge, particularly in the first game, so there are clear similarities with this spell. The Blues put in arguably their worst performance of the season away at Norwich City, losing 1-0, and while they did everything they could to make amends at home to Watford four days later, the Hornets’ low block helped to see out a stalemate on home soil.

At least we saw some of Ipswich’s trademark attacking play in the second game - they just weren’t clinical, and they eventually ran out of steam. This is a really difficult and demanding period, and we’re seeing all three teams in the promotion battle struggling with it, but Town have to show what we know they’re all capable of.

East Anglian Daily Times: Middlesbrough's top-six hopes would be all but over if they lose at Portman Road todayMiddlesbrough's top-six hopes would be all but over if they lose at Portman Road today (Image: PA)

Are Boro in it?

Middlesbrough travelled to Hull City in midweek knowing that a win would keep their hopes of a top-six finish alive. Emmanuel Latte Lath’s strike was cancelled out by goals from Jaden Philogene and Jean Michael Seri, before Finn Azaz equalised to draw the game 2-2.

It does little for either team, and Boro now find themselves sitting in ninth place, six points behind Norwich in the last play-off spot. Coventry and Preston North End also sit ahead of them.

Their late surge shows that anything is possible. They’re unbeaten in eight games, having beaten the Canaries on home soil and taken a point from their trip to Southampton. If it wasn’t for a disappointing start to the season, they’d be right in the mix, if not the driving seat.

With games against Leeds, Cardiff City and Watford coming up after their trip to Portman Road, nothing is impossible, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the team from Teesside will be spending another campaign in the second tier.

East Anglian Daily Times: Michael Carrick will likely set up his side to play on the counterMichael Carrick will likely set up his side to play on the counter (Image: PA)

A different kind of game

This game won’t look like the stalemate against Watford in midweek. Middlesbrough aren’t going to play with a back five and bodies behind the ball. They’ll line up in a 4-2-3-1 and try to attack the game, just in a different way.

Carrick’s set-up involves low possession when away to the top teams in the division. They’ll soak it up and pounce when the opposition break in the final third, pressing and playing the ball forward on the counter. That’s where they’re absolutely lethal, as seen in their 2-1 win at Leicester.

In the reverse fixture, the tables were turned. The first battle between the former Manchester United coaches saw McKenna came out on top at the Riverside, winning 2-0. The second goal - a quick counter from Omari Hutchinson that killed off the game - is exactly how Middlesbrough want to play.

It means that they’ll be more open than the Hornets were, which should give Ipswich more space to attack and score, but there’s no denying that they face a much bigger attacking threat at Portman Road today.

East Anglian Daily Times: Conor Chaplin could return to the starting lineup this afternoonConor Chaplin could return to the starting lineup this afternoon (Image: Ross Halls)

Who could start?

We saw McKenna make four changes for the midweek stalemate in Suffolk, with Harry Clarke, George Edmundson, Jack Taylor and Kayden Jackson all coming in.

Clarke certainly has a good chance of keeping his place ahead of Axel Tuanzebe. The energy and width he offered against a resilient Watford team was vital, with many of the chances coming from his attacks down the right.

Edmundson picked up a knock in midweek, which is a shame given that he’d probably be best positioned to deal with Latte Lath’s pace. Luke Woolfenden should come back in to replace him.

Further forward, Taylor will probably drop out for Massimo Luongo, who can offer the back line a bit more protection on transitions, which will be vital in a game like this.

Conor Chaplin will surely come back in, meaning that Jackson will likely drop out and Hutchinson will switch to the right. Don’t rule out Ali Al-Hamadi getting his first start either, with Kieffer Moore struggling to impact games as much as he’d like.