FRIDAY night’s Championship contest features Ipswich and Middlesbrough with Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) sharing his favourite fancy.
Ipswich v Middlesbrough | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
Mick McCarthy’s a magnificent man. We’re all thinking it, right? What a guy.
As well as being fantastic entertainment and an honest grafter with great wit, he’s actually a very impressive football manager. It might surprise you to learn, in eight of his 11 full seasons as a number one, he’s improved on the previous season’s finishing position. Now that’s outstanding.
Bettering Ipswich’s sixth-placed finish in 2014/15 could be tough on paper right now – the top five in the Championship are looking consistently strong and six points clear of the chasing pack – but you wouldn’t rule out McCarthy’s men come May, would you?
Since taking over at Portman Road, the former Republic of Ireland head coach has returned W47-D33-L30 (only counting full seasons) and the 1.58 points-per-game average is enough to keep Friday night’s hosts in contention for top-six finishes.
Anyhow, Town are back on our screens again after last week’s comfortable 3-0 win at lowly Charlton made it W3-D3-L0 from their past six. Ipswich didn’t need to be too dominant in that display but the three points brought them back to within touching distance of the play-off places.
Last season’s Championship top-scorer Daryl Murphy is amongst the goals again (six in his past three) and once more the Tractor Boys are dreaming of a return to the Premier League. If they can just start turning their home draws (five in six) back into victories, Ipswich will finish in the top-six.
Bar a 3-2 reverse to table-topping Brighton, Town have continued their tough-to-beat ways at HQ (W3-D5-L1). Drilling back down into McCarthy’s reign, he’s recorded W30-D16-L9 from Portman Road clashes against Championship opposition – an average of 1.93 points-per-game with 1.60 goals scored and just 0.93 conceded. Strong.
You have to go back to 1993 for their last league loss at home to Middlesbrough (W5-D4-L0) and I expect the hosts to cause the Teesiders plenty of problems. The attacking trio of Murphy, Freddie Sears and Brett Pitman are a match for any in this division and 12 goals in their last four outings suggests the team are on song in the final third.
In fact, only Nottingham Forest and Reading have landed more shots-on-target whilst only four clubs have attempted fewer efforts from outside the penalty box. Surprisingly, both Ipswich and their Friday guests have faced the same number of on-target shots but Boro’s average jumps from 3.33 per-game to 4.56 per-game on their travels.
Like McCarthy, visiting boss Aitor Karanka’s made a major impact since arriving in his current role. His W36-D13-L15 return since the start of last season is worth 1.89 points-per-game but it does take a hit away from the Riverside (W14-D7-L11), falling to 1.53 points-per-game.
Karanka prioritised this game over Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup tie with Everton resting six players as his squad look to cope with a third fixture in six days. Sitting pretty in second, just two points behind Brighton, victory here would send the Teesiders top until at least 5pm on Saturday.
But Boro haven’t yet hit fifth gear and I’ve been a little underwhelmed of late. They weren’t fantastic at Huddersfield last time out, were arguably second best when welcoming QPR and comfortably beaten at Hull in their last trip to a top-half side. They’ve also been downed at Reading and Cardiff on the road (W4-D2-L3).
Sure, they look a stronger side all-round than last season and are maintaining their defensive strength. And that extra slice of attacking quality is helping them win matches when they’ve not been at their best. But only six sides have scored fewer away goals than Middlesbrough and they’ve only kept 10 of their 30 clean sheet haul since the start of last season on the road.
A trip to East Anglia will test their mettle and in a tight encounter, such as this, it’s always a decent ploy to back the outsider of the three in the Match Odds markets. That means putting faith in the 23/10 (BetVictor) draw but seeing as I detest investing in stalemates, I don’t think you can go too far wrong with taking Ipswich in the Draw No Bet market at odds-against quotes of 42/41 (888).
Ipswich v Middlesbrough – Ipswich draw no bet (42/41 888)
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