|Ipswich Town 2 v 2 Middlesbrough|
Sunday, 6th May 2018 Kick-off 12:30
Klug Aiming to Go Out on a High Against Boro
Friday, 4th May 2018 17:52
Blues caretaker-boss Bryan Klug is looking to go out on a high when Town take on Middlesbrough in the last game of the season and his fourth and final match in charge of the first team on Sunday, which has been declared 78 Day as the 40th anniversary of the Blues' 1978 FA Cup win is celebrated (KO 12.30pm).
Having recorded his first victory in his temporary role at Reading last week, Klug wants to claim a home win against Boro, who go into the match having confirmed their play-off place but out to seal fifth rather than sixth spot and a two-legged semi-final against third-placed Aston Villa, who beat 10-man Town 4-0 at Portman Road a fortnight ago.
“Yes, of course, the result against Villa and the way the game went was hard for us to take,” Klug said. “But it’s a challenge when you play anyone in the top six in this league.
“We competed very well at Forest and we competed very well at Reading but I think there’s a step up to the clubs that have got the parachute payments and the bigger squads. I think that’s a real challenge for us.
“I don’t know what our record is against those teams, but it’s very difficult. Regardless of who [plays], Tony Pulis’s team will always come and play to win, they’re not interested in anything else.
“We’re expecting that, so it would be really nice to have the same sort of atmosphere we had for the Villa game and hopefully a slightly better result.”
Klug isn’t anticipating the Teessiders, who have won their last three games, taking it easy on Sunday with any fringe players who are fielded likely to view the match as an opportunity to stake their claim for a place in the play-off side.
“The manager there is ultra-competitive, any player who is rested, whoever comes in will have a massive incentive to try and play,” he said.
“They’ll have brilliant support, no doubt, so I don’t see any way that they won’t be anything other than fully primed.
“And they want to build momentum as well. When you’re going into a play-off situation, I think winning is a great habit to have, so they’ll be aiming to do that, there’s no doubt about that.”
Town’s season has been over from a competitive angle for some while, however, there is still the matter of East Anglian pride with the Blues going into the final day in 13th, one place and one point behind their greatest rivals Norwich City but with a better goal difference.
“It would be great if we could [finish ahead of Norwich],” Klug said. “Who are they playing? Sheffield Wednesday? Yes, if we can get anything out of the game it obviously gives us a chance of doing that and that’ll be a great thing for the supporters. We’ll be doing all we can to do that.
“It would be nice, if that happens, great. But we’ve just got to try and look after what we can look after with the game.”
Klug has confirmed that Bartosz Bialkowski will be in goal on Sunday, perhaps for the last time for Town with interest in the Poland international, who is still to sign his new contract, expected in the summer from January suitors Crystal Palace among others.
Klug is likely to stick with three men at the back, who will probably be Luke Woolfenden, making his home debut, Adam Webster and Jonas Knudsen with Cameron Carter-Vickers a big doubt with an ankle injury.
With Jordan Spence also a doubt with a knee problem, Barry Cotter could make his second Blues start at right wing-back having come on as a sub at the Madejski Stadium, with Myles Kenlock continuing his run at left wing-back.
In midfield, Cole Skuse looks set to return alongside one of Tristan Nydam, Callum Connolly, Luke Hyam, who is back in training after his hamstring injury, or Stephen Gleeson.
Klug seems set to start with a three-man frontline again with Bersant Celina and Ben Morris perhaps either side of 15-goal top scorer Martyn Waghorn.
Mustapha Carayol is unavailable having picked up an injury at Reading, while Ben Folami, who along with the Gambian international started against the Royals, suffered a knock in training and is a doubt.
The caretaker-manager reported only 15 players fit on Friday morning but hoped some of those with minor problems might be OK to be involved against the Teessiders.
Despite his side already having confirmed their play-off place and regulars Mo Besic, Stewart Downing and Daniel Ayala suffering with minor knocks, Boro manager Pulis is ruling out wholesale changes on Sunday.
“We have a few knocks and niggles, but I think everyone will be fit for the game. It’s whether one or two will need a rest, I will decide that closer to the game,” Pulis told the Northern Echo.
“It’s an important game, about keeping the momentum going as much as anything else. It’s important the players approach it in the right manner, we have a responsibility to the supporters who will be down there.
“We will get this game out of the way, then we will know who we will have [in the play-offs], then prepare for five days before the next one.
“If you go into a game of football pulling out of challenges, no effort, that’s most probably a way you would get injured or when something could go wrong. And if people pay good money to go down and watch a game, then we will have a responsibility to them.
“Generally this week it’s about who is ready and then we will pick a team, hopefully go to Portman Road and play well. We have to make sure everything is on this game then after that we will focus on a good performance in those two [semi-final] games.”
Former Blues skipper Grant Leadbitter joined the Teessiders on a Bosman transfer in the summer of 2012 having turned down a contract at Town after three years at Portman Road.
Blues winger Mustapha Carayol was with Boro between August 2012 and August 2016 making 40 starts and 14 sub appearances, scoring 12 goals.
Town have had the better of Middlesbrough over the years, winning 30 games (28 in the league), drawing 15 (15) and losing 21 (20).
At the Riverside Stadium in December, goals either side of the break from Martin Braithwaite and Patrick Bamford saw Middlesbrough to a 2-0 victory.
Braithwaite profited from a series of Town defensive errors to give the Teessiders the lead on 44 with Bamford adding the second with a low shot off the inside of the post six minutes into the second half.
Last time at Portman Road, in December 2015, Cristhian Stuani and - inevitably - David Nugent were on target in the second half as Middlesbrough climbed to the top of the Championship via a 2-0 victory over Town at Portman Road.
After the Blues had had the better of the first half, Stuani headed the opener on 54, then 20 minutes later Nugent scored his 15th goal in 14 games against Town and his 10th in eight at Portman Road.
Sunday’s referee is David Coote, who has shown 147 yellow cards and five red in 36 games so far this season.
The Nottinghamshire-based official’s last Town match was the 1-1 draw with Norwich City at Carrow Road in February in which he booked Connolly, Skuse, Waghorn, Spence and Joe Garner as well as two Canaries.
Coote also refereed the 1-0 defeat at Wolves in December in which he booked Webster, Connolly and Waghorn and one home player.
Prior to that he was the man in the middle for November’s 2-2 draw at Hull City, booking five Blues - Knudsen, Webster, Connolly, Garner and Grant Ward - as well as three home players. He also awarded the Blues a penalty but McGoldrick’s spot-kick was saved.
Before that he refereed the 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in April last year in which he booked only Skuse.
He also took charge of the December 2016 2-1 victory over Bristol City at Portman Road, yellow-carding Brett Pitman, Tom Lawrence and two of the visitors.
Coote was also the man in the middle for the Portman Road derby four months prior to that which ended 1-1. He booked no home players and one Canary as well as ruling out what replays showed to be Douglas’s perfectly good goal, his linesman having wrongly flagged for offside.
He refereed the 2-2 FA Cup draw at home to Portsmouth in January 2016, in which he cautioned Skuse and one visiting player, and the 0-0 home draw with Cardiff in October 2015 in which he cautioned eight players, Tommy Smith, Skuse and Kevin Bru as well as five Bluebirds.
Coote officiated in the 2-2 draw with Brentford on the opening day of 2015/16 when he booked only Bees' midfielder Jota.
Earlier, he refereed the 3-1 defeat at Cardiff in October 2014, in which he yellow-carded Tyrone Mings and two home players, the 2-1 defeat at Reading on the opening day of the 2013/14 season and the 3-1 home loss to Wigan later that campaign.
During the season prior to that he took control of Town’s 2-1 defeat away against the Tigers which turned out to be Paul Jewell’s penultimate game in charge of the Blues and the 3-0 home victory over Millwall.
Squad from: Bialkowski, M Crowe, Spence, Cotter, Kenlock, Knudsen, Carter-Vickers, Woolfenden, Webber, Skuse (c), Connolly, Hyam, Gleeson, Nydam, McLoughlin, McKendry, Celina, Carayol, Waghorn, Sears, Folami, Morris, Drinan.
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