Blues buoyant, Teessiders toiling, clinical counter key – five talking points ahead of Middlesbrough v Ipswich Town
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town take on Middlesbrough, at the Riverside Stadium, in a Championship match tomorrow (3pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
What a difference a week makes.
Ipswich Town looked destined for mid-table after missed opportunities against Hull (2-2 away) and Sheffield Wednesday (2-2 at home), followed by a 2-0 loss at Aston Villa. The form at that stage was a miserly 14 points from 14 games and all the good work from a fine start was in danger of being undone.
Mick McCarthy and his spirited group of players so often pull results out of the bag when they need them most though.
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The 1-0 midweek win at Derby County was full of defensive organisation and character. The entertaining 4-2 home victory against Nottingham Forest four days later was both bold and gutsy given how Town were twice pegged back.
Six massive points keep them right on the coattails of the top-six and provide a timely morale boost leading into the busy Christmas schedule.
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Wins on the spin
Town recorded back-to-back wins just once in the entirety of a dismal 2016/17 campaign – the timely Easter weekend double against Burton and Newcastle.
You need to regularly string victories together to make the top six. In 2014/15, the Blues won three or more games on the spin on three separate occasions (September, November and December).
Completing another triple triumph would add to the comparisons between this spirted, close-knit squad and the group which beat the odds to secure a play-off place two-and-a-half years ago.
Turmoil on Teesside
The back page headline on Monday’s Teesside Gazette read: ‘Weak, vulnerable and the fans are sick of it’.
A 2-1 home defeat to Bristol City drew further comment like ‘a shambolic, shapeless, dismal display of expensive ineptitude’ and ‘every department of the Boro team is underachieving... and it’s getting worse’.
Yes, the natives are growing restless at The Riverside Stadium...
Three defeats in four games – Leeds (2-1 away) and Derby (3-0 at home) prior to last weekend – have seen Boro slip to ninth in the table.
Hull and Sunderland, the other two teams relegated from the Premier League last season, may be in a far worse state but that’s no consolation for the Boro faithful. Expectations were rightly high.
Chairman Steve Gibson had said he wanted to ‘smash the league’ and bounce back as champions. Appointing former Swansea and Leeds boss Garry Monk had looked to be a real coup. Millions were then lavished on assembling one of the strongest squads in Championship history.
Names like Darren Ranolph, Ben Gibson, Jonny Howson, Stewart Downing and Britt Assombalonga leap off the page. It’s simply not clicked though.
“To put things in perspective, Ryan Shotton, Lewis Baker, Adam Clayton and Ashley Fletcher haven’t even been in the matchday 18 recently,” said Gazette journalist Jonathon Taylor.
“On paper this squad is comfortably the strongest in the division, but yet they find themselves 18 points behind leaders Wolves. The pressure is on, there are so many options, but they can’t find the winning formula. They have only beaten a top-half side once (Sheffield United away) and that was the second game of the season.
“I don’t think Garry’s head is on the chopping block just yet, but fans are starting to make conclusions on him.
“What’s made things worse is that they have not played well at home all season. The Riverside Stadium was a fortress in the Championship under Aitor Karanka, but they’ve already lost here four times this season.
“The concern is that they can’t respond to going behind. If Ipswich score first on Saturday then the atmosphere could turn toxic.”
Boro, much like Ipswich, seem to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 system after trying every formation going for a spell. Unlike Town, they are a possession-based side.
“They always have plenty of the ball, but lack penetration and have been vulnerable to the counter-attack,” explained Taylor.
That will be music to Ipswich ears. Mick McCarthy’s men often end up comfortably second best when it comes to possession statistics, but that’s all part of the game plan. An organised back six steps in at the right time before quickly setting a fluid front four away on the attack.
The goals conceded have largely been down to individual errors rather than being the product of a wide open game plan. The goals scored (only Wolves have netted more) have been down to some ultra clinical finishing.
• Tractor Girls targeting historic FA Cup winTeam newsMcCarthy has a big decision to make if Joe Garner is fit again after missing the last two games with a foot injury as nine-goal Martyn Waghorn has led the line superbly in his absence.Captain Luke Chambers will go straight back into the defence after last weekend’s one-game ban, with Dominic Iorfa likely to drop out.Defender Daniel Ayala is available again for Boro after his own suspension. Monk may be tempted to make wholesale changes. Ex-Town midfielder Grant Leadbitter may return to the midfield.