Middlesbrough preview: Ipswich Town boss disappointed with form, but hints at Blues’ over-achievement
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town face a formidable test this afternoon when they travel to Championship title contenders, Middlesbrough.
The Blues would have earmarked this as a crunch clash a few weeks ago, but one win in their last nine has seen their play-off dream fizzle out.
It would take a remarkable set of results for Ipswich to reach the top six. With just three games to go, Town are eight points adrift of sixth place, so pride will be the key objective today.
Mick McCarthy’s team will certainly try and make it as uncomfortable as possible for a side that can boast Ipswich nemesis David Nugent (15 goals in 14 games against the Blues), £9m striker Jordan Rhodes, on-loan Southampton midfielder Gaston Ramirez and England international Stewart Downing, and have defied the odds on several occasions during the 57-year-old’s tenure.
They are not expected to get anything from the game, so the pressure will be off and the shackles may be removed somewhat.
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However, a lack of guile in attacking areas will make it difficult for them to break down a rearguard that has conceded just seven home league goals all season.
Strap yourselves in Town fans, it could be a long afternoon.
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The play-off dream is all but over, with Ipswich Town eight points outside the top-six with three games to go.
Prior to THAT heartbreaking draw at Bolton in March – a result which both Mick McCarthy and Brett Pitman, this week, admitted the Blues never recovered from, Ipswich were 13 points behind Middlesbrough but just a point outside the play-offs.
Since then, a lot of water has gone under the bridge. New signing Jordan Rhodes has found form at the Riverside and manager Aitor Karanka walked out on his side for a game, only to return and rediscover that winning formula which now sees the Teesiders a massive 24 points better off than Town.
The Blues have taken just one win from nine games and a number of abject performances have ruined a season that promised so much but ultimately delivered so little.
As honest as ever, McCarthy admitted his side’s form in the last six weeks has not been good enough, but did suggest his team of free transfers, swaps and loans had over-achieved.
He said: “We had a real good chance (of reaching the play-offs) but if you analyse the league, you have Burnley, Middlesbrough, Hull, Brighton and Derby. Cardiff were in the Premier League two seasons ago, so there’s six of them.
“Then there’s Sheffield Wednesday who have bought Gary Hooper and brought in Aiden McGeady and we are in eighth, behind all of them.
“I reckon there’s a few (teams) who have thought we shouldn’t really be there in terms of what’s happened.
“I’m still disappointed and still think we had a real chance of getting in the top six.
“We have not been good enough over the last six weeks, and certainly since the Bolton game, but, there is also a lot to be proud of as well. The lads have been great and we could be at the other end (of the table).
“We should be a lot worse off against some of the teams that come here and think they are better players, have a better way of playing, better this, better that, but we are going to finish above them.”
In Middlesbrough’s case, they have made a statement of intent in the transfer market this season, bringing in Rhodes (£9m), Stewart Downing (£5m) and Christian Stuani (around £2.3m).
Those signings have complimented a strong core, featuring rock-solid defenders Ben Gibson and Daniel Ayala, midfield lynchpins Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter, the former Ipswich man, and Blues nemesis, David Nugent.
Last year’s losing play-off finalists are currently unbeaten in seven, have won their last six on home soil and boast the meanest defence in the division (28), conceding just seven goals at the Riverside all season.
“You can’t be surprised where they are when they have signed (David) Nugent for zillions and Jordan Rhodes for nine million,” explained McCarthy.
“They have got Ramirez (on-loan from Southampton) and I forgot Stewart Downing, who was £6 million from West Ham and (on) 50 grand a week or whatever.
“But for long parts of this season we have competed with them and we did last year.”
Skipper George Friend (hamstring) is definitely out, while on-loan Southampton forward Gaston Ramirez is a doubt with a knock.
Christian Stuani is available again after a three-match ban.
Regular scorer against Ipswich Town, David Nugent, is likely to start on the bench, with former Blues youngster Jordan Rhodes, another prolific marksman against Ipswich, expected to start.
Daryl Murphy (calf) and Luke Varney (hamstring) are out, while Giles Coke (knee) won’t play again this season. Larsen Toure (groin) is also out.
David McGoldrick could be recalled after being rested against Fulham.
Mick McCarthy could also hand another youngster a start, with Adam McDonnell, the young Irish midfielder, a possible contender, following Andre Dozzell’s debut at Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.