McCarthy doesn’t expect anyone to pull away at the top of the Championship table

Reading boss Steve Clarke

Reading boss Steve Clarke - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy has predicted that the battle for automatic promotion will go right to the wire.

Leicester stormed the division last season, while Burnley finished strongly to wrap up second spot with games to spare.

With just eight points separating the top seven sides at the 31-game mark though, McCarthy – a man who has won the second tier title with both Sunderland and Wolves – believes this year is going to be tighter than ever at the top.

“Ninety-two points is probably the total to get (automatically) promoted,” said McCarthy. “Leicester ended up with more than that (102) last season and I think Burnley got 42 points from their last 19 games (to finish on 93) which was unbelievable.

“I don’t see that this time though. I think we’re all going to cut each others’ throats.

“We’ve now got a month coming up with games against Norwich, Brentford, Middlesbrough and Watford... We’ve got them all to play. Everybody is capable of taking points off each other.”

Last weekend, Bournemouth were held to a 1-1 home draw by Huddersfield. On Tuesday night, Derby had to come from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 at Rotherham. Then, on Wednesday night, Middlesbrough drew 1-1 at Birmingham.

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“It’s not that,” said McCarthy. “We’re just not all that much better than anybody else.

“Why does anybody think that we have a divine right to go to Rotherham and win? Derby have just drawn there 3-3. Who thinks that, after Gary Rowett’s (Birmingham) team have just surged up the table, that Middlesbrough can just take the points off them? It just does not happen in this league. Everybody is scrapping for something.

“What’s 10th or 12th from the play-offs? You put a good run together and suddenly you can be pecking at the play-off positions. If you don’t put a run together then the bottom three can suddenly be pecking at you.

“There’s never, ever a time in which you can just sit back and relax in this division.”

When it was put to him that many will see back-to-back home games against mid-table opposition as a golden chance to break back into the top-two spots, the Blues boss said: “As are we. I am as well. But I’m also aware of the qualities that the opposition will bring with the players they’ve got.

“Yes, it’s an opportunity to move back into the top two but it won’t be easy.”

– Follow @Stuart_Watson on Twitter for live match updates from this afternoon’s game.