MATCH PREVIEW: Outcome of the next two games will determine whether Ipswich Town face back-to-back mini Cup Finals

Ipswich Town

Ipswich Town - Credit: Archant

Middlesbrough v Ipswich: It’s a fortnight which will determine whether Ipswich Town remain in the hunt for sixth-spot.

Next Saturday sees Wigan (sixth) come to Portman Road, while the following weekend Mick McCarthy’s men are at Brighton (eighth).

Those matches could be mini Cup Finals for the Blues given that both opponents have a game in hand. First up though there is the small matter of 1,000 miles on the road for two trips to opposite corners of the country.

This afternoon Ipswich are in the north east to play a Middlesbrough side who have tumbled down the table after failing to score in their last seven matches.

On Tuesday, Town are in the south west to play a Yeovil side that are second-bottom following just one league win in seven.


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Wigan are in FA Cup quarter-final action tomorrow, while someone will have to drop points when Brighton host seventh-placed Reading.

With Blackburn, Watford and Leeds all hot on Town’s heels, the business end of the season is very much underway.

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Overview

It will be the case of magic Mick McCarthy and the sleeping giant as the Ipswich Town team coach covers 1,000 miles in five days.

The Blues battled the Friday afternoon traffic to get up to the north east yesterday and won’t be back in Suffolk until much before midnight tonight.

There will then we be a day-and-a-half back in Ipswich before it’s all aboard the coach again for Monday afternoon’s trip to the south west ahead of the Tuesday night game at Yeovil. If they are lucky, the players and staff will be back in their own beds around 3am on Wednesday morning.

“We used to play cards at one stage, but we don’t do that anymore,” said McCarthy. “I watch films. I downloaded all of the Harry Potter films, but I have to say it’s getting on my nerves. I think I’ve watched them out of sync! It’s about time I got some others.

“Do you know what, I don’t mind the travelling because once we’ve done our preparation it’s sometimes nice just to switch the phone off, relax and have a kip.”

Having a kip is certainly something one Blues player plans on doing.

“I just fall asleep all the time,” explained towering striker Frank Nouble. “As soon as I get on that coach my head’s down and I’m gone. Everyone knows there is no point trying to talk to me. I just wake up when we get there. They all take pictures of me and I have to tell them ‘don’t put them on Instagram or Twitter’.

Ipswich have lost just two of their last 11 away league games, winning two and drawing seven.

With sixth-placed Wigan four points ahead and holding a game-in-hand, the Blues need to start winning more games if the gap is going to be closed.

McCarthy, however, refuses to abandon his ‘no such thing as a bad away point’ mantra.

Middlesbrough may have gone seven games without scoring, but they have also not conceded a goal from open play in their last six.

In addition to the goalless draws with Wigan (home), Doncaster (away), Blackburn (home) and Leeds (home), there have been 1-0 defeats – both courtesy of a converted penalty – at Watford and Sheffield Wednesday.

Back to the prospect of two long journeys. Could a bad result lead to a spiky atmosphere on the way home?

“No, you’ve got me totally misunderstood,” said McCarthy. “It’s never a spiky atmosphere on the coach at all. There might be a subdued one, but I’m not one to go to the back of the coach and slaughter somebody because they’ve laughed when we’ve just lost.

“Do you know what, even after you’ve lost there are still things that are funny. There is humour in life, whatever has gone against you.”

TEAM NEWS

MIDDLESBROUGH

– Aitor Karanka has a selection headache when it comes to the position of goalkeeper. Shay Given returned to parent club Aston Villa recently, with Spaniard Tomas Mejias getting the nod for last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday. He has since injured his finger in training meaning it will be a straight choice between Greece’s Dimi Konstantopoulos (on the bench last weekend) and Luke Steele.

– Experienced duo Jonathan Woodgate and Dean Whitehead are both out having picked up a back injury and red card last weekend.

– Midfielder Mustapha Carayol could return to the squad having been left out in recent weeks for what manager Karanka described as ‘a bad attitude’.

IPSWICH TOWN

– McCarthy has confirmed that Paul Taylor will retain his starting place after producing a man-of-the-match performance in last weekend’s 1-0 home win over Birmingham.

– Frank Nouble came off early in the second half last weekend after he felt his hamstring tighten up. He has recovered and should start again.

– Luke Hyam is available again after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.

– Crystal Palace loanee Jonny Williams has recovered from the glute injury which prevented him making his debut last weekend.

– Christophe Berra was an unused sub for Scotland in Poland on Wednesday night. He linked up with his club-mates last night.

LIKELY LINE-UPS

Middlesbrough

13 D Konstantopoulos

8 Jozsef Varga

22 Ben Gibson

25 Kenneth Omeruo

3 George Friend

7 Grant Leadbitter

24 N Chalobah

27 Albert Adomah

6 Jacob Butterfield

11 E Ledesma

9 Danny Graham

Ipswich Town

22 Dean Gerken

4 Luke Chambers

6 Christophe Berra

5 Tommy Smith

3 Aaron Cresswell

16 Paul Green

8 Cole Skuse

18 Jay Tabb

35 Frank Nouble

26 Paul Taylor

9 Daryl Murphy

Head-to-head

There have been no goals from open play in Middlesbrough’s last six games. Ipswich have lost just two of their last 11 away league games.

Everything points towards a cagey and low-scoring afternoon and therefore both keepers could be the differenbce for their respective sides.

Dimitri Konstantopoulos is set to make his first league start for Boro. The one-cap Greece international – formerly of Hartlepool – looks set to be given the nod over Luke Steele, with Shay Given’s loan having expired and Tomas Mejias injured in training this week.

Blues boss Mick McCarthy has stuck firmly by Dean Gerken throughout the season, the former Bristol City man having taken his number of clean sheets for the season to seven in last weekend’s 1-0 home win over Birmingham.

Last meeting

Ipswich Town 3 Middlesbrough 1

David McGoldrick scored twice as Ipswich came from behind to record an ultimately comfortable victory over Middlesbrough last September.

The visitors took the lead in the 12th minute through Albert Adomah’s acrobatic effort.

McGoldrick’s 25-yard effort levelled things up before the break though, with Luke Chambers’ heading in just before the hour.

Ipswich had further chances before McGoldrick burst clear to wrap up a fully deserved win in stoppage-time.

Prediction

The approach of both teams is clear: keep it tight, be hard to beat and then hope that a moment of magic or luck can tip the balance.

Ipswich look like they have more potential match winners in their squad than their hosts, to me.

Paul Taylor looked a real bright spark in last weekend’s 1-0 home win over Birmingham, while new loanee Jonny Williams is ready to make his debut.

Everything points to a low-scoring draw, but I’ve got a feeling Town can sneak this one.

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