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Ipswich Town 1 v 1 Middlesbrough
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 13th April 2024 Kick-off 15:00
McKenna: Boro Know They Probably Need to Win All Their Games
Friday, 12th Apr 2024 18:04

Boss Kieran McKenna believes Middlesbrough will come to Portman Road knowing they probably need to win all four of their remaining games to stand a chance of reaching the play-offs.

Second-placed Town, whose match at Coventry next weekend has been put back 10 days due to the Sky Blues’ FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, are behind leaders Leicester on goal difference with the Foxes and are a point in front of third-placed Leeds United.

A victory over Boro would take the Blues back to the top of the table following Leicester's 1-0 defeat at Plymouth on Friday evening, while a draw may also be enough depending on the Whites’ home game against Blackburn over Saturday lunchtime.

Boro are in ninth in the Championship and are unbeaten in eight, winning five and drawing three, including Wednesday’s game away at Hull City which ended 2-2. They are six points off the top six and still have an outside chance of reaching the play-offs.

The Teessiders could have quite the impact on the race for the top two over the next 10 days with third-placed Leeds visiting the Riverside a week on Monday.

Away from home in the Championship this season, they have won nine, drawn four and lost eight with their 62 points split equally between their games at the Riverside and on the road.

Only leaders Leicester, 39, have scored more goals away from home than the Teessiders’ 36, however, just seven teams have conceded more than their total of 34 on their travels.

“They're on a really good run, on good form, are unbeaten in eight league games, having had a couple of really tough away games, at Southampton and Hull in there, they competed very well in both, and had some really strong home performances,” McKenna said.

“And they've got a really good team available for selection, players back fit and performing to a high level.

“Of course, we know plenty about them. They know plenty about us. They've got lots of things to admire as a football team and probably realistically where they're at in the campaign, they probably know that they need to win games and they might need to win all their games.

“We know they're going to come here and they're going to give it everything for the win and I’d imagine trying to leave it all out there. And that should make for a really exciting game, two good teams, and it should be a really good match.”

McKenna believes Boro added well in the winter transfer window. “I think that's always important for every club and whatever your goal is,” he reflected. “If you can add in January, it always helps.

“Luke Ayling is a really experienced defender and he's given them cover in that area of the pitch, and he's started pretty much all the games for them.

“And I think they've got a really good team, to be honest. Finn Azaz is a talent that we know really well [from his loan spells with Plymouth] and I think they've got good individuals. They're very well coached and they're a good team.“

The two managers were together on the Manchester United staff under José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær prior to taking charge at their two clubs, but they first met one another as players at Tottenham.

“As I've said many times, he’s someone I consider a really good friend, a fantastic person,” McKenna added. “And he's been following a lot of our games and wishing us the best. And I'll regularly do the same for him in his games.

“But, of course, this weekend we'll both be trying to help our players and help our football clubs compete for a really important result.”

McKenna made four changes ahead of Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Watford, resting regular first-teamers such as Conor Chaplin, Massimo Luongo and Luke Woolfenden, and he hopes those players who were left out will have benefited from it.

“I think that would be natural,” he continued. “Anyone who didn't start on Wednesday, the hope would be that any of those who did come back in the team for the following game would be fresher. That's one of the purposes of being able to rotate the team when we need. 

“We know it's the last game of the busy block. We've got two weeks after this game. So the boys are in good spirits and, I think, determined to go out there and leave it all on the pitch tomorrow and see where that can take us.”

McKenna wanted a big Portman Road night on Wednesday and again the Blues need their fans behind them on Saturday afternoon.

“We do,” he said. “Not to sit here every game and ask for a big atmosphere and an extra push, but in reality, that's what we need from everybody. We need that from the players, as I say.

“The league's not easy. The fixture list is not easy. The players are pushing really, really well, I have to say, with everything that they've got in them.

“I think the supporters have been excellent as well. It feels like we've had quite a few games, but we've got two weeks after this one without a game. It's the second-last home game, we won't be back in Portman Road until the Huddersfield game after tomorrow, so we've put every bit of effort we could into the preparation. 

“I expect the players and hope, and I'm sure we will see them, run every yard that they have in them tomorrow and be brave and try and play our football and impose our style.

“And I'm sure the supporters will come as well in full voice, will be right behind the players, will stick with us and try and push us in a really tough game.

“We know when they do that, that gives us a much better chance of getting the outcome that we want.”

Leaders Leicester were beaten 1-0 at Plymouth on Friday evening, while Leeds in third take on Blackburn at Elland Road at lunchtime on Saturday. Southampton in fourth, who may still fancy their chances of making the top two, are at home to Watford later in the afternoon.

But McKenna insisted he’d still be taking little notice of the games involving Town’s competitors for an automatic promotion place.

“No, I honestly [won’t]. It's been a busy week preparing for Watford,” he said. “Now for this one, full focus on that. Give it everything tomorrow. Can't do anything more than that.

“And then we'll be able to have a little bit of a deep breath and see where we're at, freshen up and be ready to attack the last three games.

“But until that point, there's not been one thought of anything other than getting ready for Middlesbrough.”

Vaclav Hladky will continue in goal with Leif Davis at left-back and either Harry Clarke or Axel Tuanzebe on the right. Woolfenden will return for the injured George Edmundson at right centre-half alongside Cameron Burgess.

Skipper Sam Morsy will probably be paired with Luongo in the centre of midfield with Jack Taylor dropping to the bench.

In the three ahead of them, Chaplin is likely to be back in the centre with Omari Hutchinson and Kayden Jackson his options on the right and Nathan Broadhead, Jeremy Sarmiento and Marcus Harness on the left.

McKenna may opt to rest Hutchinson, who has played the full 90 minutes of the last three matches in Wes Burns’s absence, in order to utilise the on-loan Chelsea man from the bench with Jackson starting. Sarmiento may get the nod on the left on this occasion. Kieffer Moore will be the central striker.

Carrick isn’t giving up on a place in the top six, despite games running out and believes they’ve already done better than many predicted earlier in the season.

“The boys have shown tonight that we’re still in with a chance, we still in the fight, we’ve just got to try and take that as far as we can,” Carrick told BBC Radio Tees following their midweek draw at Hull.

“Not so long ago, to be in this position, some people might not have believed us that we’d go to the last few games and have a real sniff at it and a real chance.

“I think we’ve got to attack it like we did tonight, went for it to try and win the game and we’ll try and do the same on Saturday.”

Asked how much he is looking forward to taking on his friend McKenna on his own turf, he responded: “Ipswich v Middlesbrough, nothing to do with that. Kieran’s got his own thing going on. I’m pleased for him because he’s terrific at what he does. It’s not about me and Kieran this one, there’s a lot more at stake than that.”

The former England international believes McKenna has done a terrific job with the Blues and hopes Town get over the line.

“Of course, they were top of the league at some point this week, second now, but it’s incredible to do what he’s done against three big teams who have come down,” he said.

“To be up there, I don’t think that’s been done before in the league, so that shows you the job he’s done, so credit to him for that.

“And I hope for his sake that they finish it off without the result on Saturday because we need it as much as anything.”

Hayden Hackney is expected to be back in the squad having been left out against Hull with Carrick taking a cautious approach with the midfielder following a medial knee ligament injury.

However, right-back Tommy Smith (ankle), forward Marcus Forss (hamstring) and midfielder Riley McGree (foot) are all out for the rest of the season, while centre-back Darragh Lenihan (ankle) may be back for the final couple of matches.

Centre-half Paddy McNair suffered a knock while away with Northern Ireland during the international break, while striker Josh Coburn has been out since early February with a groin problem and another central defender Dael Fry with a hamstring injury. None of the three are will be involved against the Blues.

One piece of positive fitness news was that left-back Alex Bangura was back on the bench against the Tigers.

Town have had the better of Middlesbrough over the years, winning 31 games (29 in the league), drawing 16 (16) and losing 23 (22).

In December at the Riverside, Chaplin and Hutchinson were on target as Town comfortably beat Middlesbrough 2-0, their first win on Teesside since August 2010.

Chaplin gave the Blues the lead in the 36th minute with a typical strike from the edge of the box, then sub Hutchinson confirmed the three points for the second-placed Blues on 67.

Boro’s most recent game at Portman Road was back in October 2018 when early goals from Mo Besic and Stewart Downing saw the visitors to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Paul Hurst’s Blues.

Besic netted the opener on 12 and Downing added the second four minutes later following an error from Blues skipper Luke Chambers with Town never looking like taking anything from the match.

Town skipper Morsy was with the Teessiders for the 2020/21 season before rejoining his former Chesterfield and Wigan boss Paul Cook at Portman Road that summer. In total, the Egypt international made 34 starts and two sub appearances for Middlesbrough, scoring once.

Fellow midfielder Luongo also joined the Blues from Boro. The Australian international signed for the Teessiders in the summer of 2022 but never made a first-team appearance and, following a trial, joined Town in January last year.

Boro central defender Matt Clarke is from Barham and came through the Blues’ academy. The centre-half made one senior start and four sub appearances before moving to Portsmouth in the summer of 2016 in the deal which saw Adam Webster join Town.

The Blues were keen to sign Matt Crooks in the summer of 2021 when the midfielder joined the Teessiders from Rotherham, while the Blues also targeted the loan addition of Morgan Rogers in January 2021 when the then-Manchester City youngster instead signed for Lincoln City.

Saturday’s referee is recently-appointed Premier League official Sam Allison from Wiltshire, who has shown 111 yellow cards and one red in 31 games so far this season.

On Boxing Day, Allison became the first black referee to take control of a Premier League match in 15 years when he took charge of the Sheffield United-Luton match which ended 3-2 to the Hatters.

Allison’s last Town match was the 2-1 home victory over Sunderland at Portman Road in January in which he booked Harry Clarke, Wes Burns, George Edmundson, Jack Taylor and two Black Cats.

Before that he was in charge of the 2-2 draw at Portsmouth in December 2022 in which he yellow-carded only Cameron Burgess and Pompey’s Marlon Pack.

His only previous Town match was the 2-1 home victory over Fleetwood at Portman Road in October 2021 in which he booked Morsy, Bersant Celina and three of the visitors.

Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Burgess, Morsy (c), Luongo, Taylor, Travis, Ball, Chaplin, Harness, Jackson, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Broadhead, Moore, Al-Hamadi.

Photo: TWTD

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RobITFC added 18:42 - Apr 12
An ‘open’ game will suit us

MK1 added 19:12 - Apr 12
They will be a tough side to play. They will need to go for it, so hopefully that is something we can exploit. Think we win this one.

bobble added 00:21 - Apr 13
3-0 to town

Mr_Jingles added 08:32 - Apr 13
This one is a must for us ! With Leicester choking again last night, huge mental boost if we get 3 points before our 2 week break ...

Marinersnose added 10:40 - Apr 13
Looking forward to another exciting game but make no mistake this will be another tense nervous performance I’m sure against very good opponents. It’s so difficult for players to play with freedom now that the pressure is cranked up. Fans have to play their part and get behind the team. I’m hoping that Hutchinson isn’t rested as suggested as he is exactly the type of player needed in these situations albeit he’s inexperienced, but he has exceptional quality and makes things happen. COYB

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