Both sides are enduring sticky runs but Andy Tongue thinks that home advantage will hold the key in Saturday’s live Championship clash…
Middlesbrough v Ipswich
Live on Sky Sports 1
With four sides level on 66 points the Championship is even tighter than usual at the top. Boro, who are one of that quartet, have stuttered of late, although it has been on the road where their loss of form has been marked – losing at both Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest last week. They had plenty of possession at the City Ground but were unable to open up the home side’s defence which explains the move to try and sign Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn this week.
At the Riverside they saw off hapless Millwall 3-0 last time out and edged past Bolton prior to that. In fact, they have won seven of the last eight home games, conceding just three goals in the process, so Aitor Karanka will be hoping they can take advantage of the early kick-off and go back top of the table.
Daniel Ayala could return at the back, which would be a boost while if the bid to bring in Rhodes, a former Ipswich man, is successful, Boro’s title hopes as well as those of automatic promotion would look a lot brighter.
Mick McCarthy’s side have also been struggling lately with just one win from the last five and have lost four their last five games away from home. They have the poorest record on the road of any of the top eight so they will need to turn the form book on its head to get a result here.
In addition, they haven’t kept a clean sheet in eight games as this excellent summary of the Championship contenders by Mike Norman shows, and my feeling is that seventh spot is probably an accurate reflection of their standing in the division.
During their hot spell at the end of last year, Town’s fairly direct tactics of getting free-kicks, corners and crosses into the box paid off handsomely. However, a opponents seem to have worked them out and with a series of injuries wrecking what is the smallest squad of any of the promotion contenders they have lacked a creative spark in recent weeks despite bringing in Freddie Sears and Chris Wood (loan) to bolster their attacking options.
Boro’s home record is good this season (just the one defeat in their last 15 league games) and with three successive tough away games coming up against Derby, Bournemouth and Watford, taking maximum points at the Riverside Stadium is a necessity. Karanka has more options than McCarthy and the carrot of going three points clear at the top for a few hours at least should inspire his men to sneak this one.
Ipswich have performed admirably this season but with injuries having taken hold of their small squad they look set to miss out on a top six spot. In contrast, Boro have the strength in depth to take advantage of having had a rare midweek without fixtures and edge what is almost a must-win game for them, so the 1.9520/21 available about them is my best bet here.
As I’ve noted before these early Saturday kick-offs have strong trends with 14 of 18 this season going under 2.5 goals. The market seems to have caught up with this though and unders is priced short enough at 1.758/11 here.
I need a decent winner to get back into profit for the season so I’m going to look at the correct score market instead and 1-0 to the home side is my idea of the most likely outcome here.
McCarthy will no doubt set the visitors up to keep it tight and try to pinch something on the break or from a set-piece, while Boro aren’t a side to necessarily go for the jugular when in front. They have the best defensive record in the division and have conceded just 10 at home all season. I don’t think this will be great entertainment for the TV viewers but let’s try and profit from it by backing 1-0 to the home side at 7.413/2.
Back Middlesbrough to win @ 1.9520/21 *best bet
Back 1-0 to Middlesbrough @ 7.413/2
Staked: 102 pts
Returned: 99.04 pts
P/L: – 2.96 pts
*2pts best bet if stated
1pt other recommended bets