Plenty of teams make the play-offs after a slow start

Aaron Cresswell holds his head after his second half chance was saved at Birmingham. PHOTO: PAGEPIX

Aaron Cresswell holds his head after his second half chance was saved at Birmingham. PHOTO: PAGEPIX LTD - Credit: Archant

History shows a slow start to the season isn’t always costly for Championship teams harbouring top six ambitions.

Ipswich Town have claimed just four points from their opening five Championship games.

However, there have been some impressive periods of play during a tough set of early fixtures.

And following this weekend’s international break, back-to-back home fixtures against Middlesbrough and Yeovil represent a golden opportunity to ignite manager Mick McCarthy’s play-off place ambitions.

It’s already becoming a game of catch-up though and Town certainly can’t afford to let the gap between them and their rivals grow too big.

Over the last 10 seasons, just six teams have finished in the play-off places of English football’s second tier after claiming four points or less from their opening five matches.

Ipswich themselves finished sixth in the table in 2003/04 having drawn two and lost three at the start of that campaign under Joe Royle’s management.

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It’s Reading and Sunderland provide the best modern examples of success after slow starts though.

The Royals drew their opening match at home to Millwall and then won at Leicester at the start of the 2011/12 season before embarking on a four-match losing streak. Brian McDermott’s side ended up champions with 89 points.

Roy Keane’s Black Cats lost their first four matches of the 2006/07 campaign before finally getting off the mark with a 2-0 home win over West Brom. They ended up winning the league with 88 points.

Indeed, McCarthy himself knows that a quick start isn’t everything. His title-winning Sunderland side of 2004/05 only claimed five points from their opening five league matches.

Nottingham Forest (sixth in 2010/11), Crystal Palace (fifth in 2007/08), Preston (fifth in 2004/05) all recorded just one win and one draw at the beginning of seasons in which they made the play-offs.

Last season, three of the teams that ended up in the play-offs (Crystal Palace, Watford and Leicester) all started slowly, with six points claimed from a possible 15 at the start of the season.

Ipswich’s three defeats have all come by a single goal and there have been plenty of positives to take from the performances.

McCarthy is happy with the way his side is playing, defender Christophe Berra says the play-offs is still the goal.

All the pre-season optimism need not completely dissipate just yet.