East Anglian bragging rights up for grabs on ‘78 Day’
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Ipswich Town’s season concludes with the visit of Middlesbrough on Sunday lunchtime (12.30pm ko). STUART WATSON previews the action.
What’s to play for?
On the face of it very little as the Blues head into the final day able to finish somewhere between 12th and 15th.
There is, however, the small matter of East Anglian bragging rights being up for grabs. If the Blues better Norwich City’s result at Sheffield Wednesday they will finish above their rivals in the pyramid for the first time since the Canaries were in League One (2009/10).
And don’t underestimate the importance of sending supporters away with a spring in their step either.
There’s currently a sense of renewed hope ahead of the appointment of a new manager. Season tickets sales for 2018/19 are up seven per cent compared to this time last year. It would be nice to keep the positive momentum going rather than finishing on a sour note.
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There is plenty for Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis to ponder.
His team have sealed a play-off place following an impressive run of wins against Bristol City (2-1 at home), Derby (2-1 away) and Millwall (2-0 at home).
Currently fifth and set to face fourth-placed certs Aston Villa in a two-legged play-off semi-final, the only thing that can change for them on the final day is slipping into sixth to face either Cardiff or Fulham instead.
For that to happen, Boro would have to lose, Derby would have to beat Barnsley and there would have to be a four-goal swing.
Does Pulis stick with his recent winning formula in order to maintain momentum heading into the end-of-season shoot-out for the Premier League? Or does he rest a few?
Fun in the sun
So often, these end of season dead rubbers can feel like a damp squib on and off the pitch. Sunday should, however, be different.
The sun is scheduled to be out, which always helps, while so much tension has been taken out of the air since Mick McCarthy’s departure – as displayed by the vocal support in the final stages of the recent 4-0 loss to Aston Villa.
This game also happens to fall 40 years on, to the very day, that Town sealed their underdog FA Cup Final triumph against Arsenal.
The club have labelled it ‘78 Day’ and a number of players from that famous Sir Bobby Robson team – including Paul Mariner, John Wark, goalscorer Roger Osborne, Mick Mills and Kevin Beattie – will be introduced to the crowd at half-time.
A signing session with the Wembley heroes will take place in the Fan Zone during the morning, while supporters also able to get their picture taken with the iconic FA Cup trophy.
It should create a party atmosphere that, hopefully, Town’s players can thrive on.
Audition for new boss
Ipswich Town’s next manager will watch the footage of this match at some point. This is, therefore, a golden opportunity for players to put themselves firmly in the new man’s plans for 2018/19.
You could put together a team, and a pretty strong one at that, from those who are unavailable at present. Dean Gerken, Dominic Iorfa, Luke Chambers, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Chris Smith, Emyr Huws, Teddy Bishop, Tom Adeyemi, Andre Dozzell, Mustapha Carayol, David McGoldrick and Joe Garner are all injured, while Grant Ward is suspended.
That’s opened the door for a number of homegrown youngsters to get their chance, not that caretaker boss Bryan Klug needed a second invitation to give them a go.
The 10 outfield players who lined up at the Madejski Stadium last weekend had an average age of just 23, with defender Luke Woolfenden and striker Ben Folami producing encouraging full league debuts for the Blues.
Games to keep an eye on
All the Championship games kick-off at 12.30pm on Sunday.
At the top end of the table, Cardiff and Fulham are still battling it out to finish second and join Wolves in being automatically promoted.
Cardiff – ahead by a point – are at Reading, while Fulham – unbeaten in 23 league games – are at Birmingham.
Meanwhile, Preston and Derby compete for the final play-off spot. Derby host Barnsley, while Preston – two points behind – host Burton. Surely the Rams can’t blow it yet again?
Four of the aforementioned teams are involved in a five-way final day scrap to avoid joining Sunderland in being relegated.
Bolton (who host Nottingham Forest) and Burton are the two teams currently in the danger zone. Barnsley, Birmingham and Reading are still in danger.