George Burley has a sixth sense about Ipswich Town

George Burley lifts the Play-Off trophy after Ipswich Town defeated Barnsley in 2000.

George Burley lifts the Play-Off trophy after Ipswich Town defeated Barnsley in 2000. - Credit: PA

George Burley – the last manager to have led Ipswich Town into the Premier League – firmly believes the Blues have what it takes to finish in the top six this season.

Mick McCarthy’s side are three points adrift of the Championship play-off places heading into the final 16 games and, with the top five beginning to pull away, it increasingly looks like they are locked in a six-way battle for sixth-spot.

Reading, Brighton, Wigan, Blackburn and Leeds are Ipswich’s rivals for that coveted position, with the Blues arguably the biggest underdogs of them all given their small squad size and lack of spending in the transfer market.

Burley – who led Town to the top-flight via the play-offs at the fourth attempt in 1999/00 before going on to secure top six finishes with both Derby and Southampton – sees no reason why the Suffolk side can’t be in the promotion mix once again.

“There’s still a lot of points to play for and the phrase ‘marathon not a sprint’ applies to the Championship for sure,” said the Scotsman, who recently moved back to Ipswich and has been a regular spectator at Portman Road of late.

“This league is all about consistency and Ipswich have that. They haven’t been outplayed in many games and they are certainly up there on merit.

“It’s not all about money. Reading and Bolton have both come down from the Premier League in recent years, but Ipswich were certainly far better than both of them when I watched those games recently. It just shows you that it’s not all about how much players cost or what they earn, it’s about that appetite to perform week-in, week-out.”

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He continued: “It’s all about gearing your training sessions for the next game and just maintaining a belief in your players and style of play. I firmly believe football is a game of habits. Don’t change too much, stick to what you believe in and try and keep that consistency.

“Things can change very quickly. It’s not like the Premier League where you can look at three tough fixtures and think ‘where are the points coming from?’ The Championship is so competitive that any team can win three or a four in a row, no matter who they are playing.

“It doesn’t matter how you finish in the top six, it’s just about getting there. I’ve had it both ways. At Ipswich, when we made the play-offs four seasons on the trot, we had been up there for most of the campaign. At Southampton and Derby we left it late and put a good run-in together to sneak in there.”

Meanwhile, former Blues defender Mark Venus – who was part of three top six finishes at Town and recently left his coaching role alongside Tony Mowbray at Championship side Middlesbrough – said: “It looks like the top five are going to stay up there – it doesn’t take a genius to look at the league table and see that. For me it’s a case of six teams fighting for that sixth-spot now. And you can make a strong case for all six of them doing it.”

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