Ipswich Town host Middlesbrough this afternoon, with four games left in the race for promotion. Mark Heath takes a closer look at Boro...

Story of the season

Boro started the campaign terribly. After seven games they were rock-bottom of the Championship, with just two points and no wins.

It was the club's worst-ever start to a league campaign, and understandably boss Michael Carrick was under pressure.

Just like his good pal and fellow former Manchester United coach Kieran McKenna though, he approached the situation in a calm, considered, analytical way, and insisted that performances indicated things would improve.

And so they did. Middlesbrough finally got into the win column on September 23, beating promotion-chasing Southampton 2-1.

Since then, they've steadily climbed the table, doing the double over Leicester City - no mean feat - and beating top six sides West Brom and Norwich City (twice) along the way.

Heading to Suffolk they're unbeaten in eight games - their last defeat coming all the way back on March 2 - and have an outside shot of making the play-offs, sitting in ninth spot, six points behind the Canaries in sixth.

Were it not for that awful start to the season, Carrick's men would be very much in the mix for the play-offs for a second straight year.

A 2-2 draw with Hull City last time out dented their play-off hopes a little, so they'll be fired up to spring a surprise at Portman Road today.

East Anglian Daily Times: Michael Carrick was not a fan of a suggestion that Boro are out of the play-off raceMichael Carrick was not a fan of a suggestion that Boro are out of the play-off race (Image: PA Images)
Carrick on play-off chase

The Boro boss was incredulous when asked if his men were still in the play-off race after that draw with Hull.

“You’re kidding aren’t you?" he replied. "Of course we are. 100%. We’ve got to win our games.

"There is no way we’re giving up on anything yet. It doesn't matter who we play, we have to just embrace it.

"When you're playing football to achieve something, that's not pressure, it's what we live for. We can't see that as a negative.

"Of course we understand, we're playing against teams really fighting for something a little bit above us, but we have our own things to go for and look forward to and be positive about.

"After the type of season we've been through, to be in it at this stage is exciting."

East Anglian Daily Times: Like Town, Boro like to play out from the back with keeper Seny DiengLike Town, Boro like to play out from the back with keeper Seny Dieng (Image: PA Images)
Live by the sword, die by the sword

Like Town, Carrick's men like to play football. We won't see a repeat of Watford's low block and playing for a point in Suffolk today.

Boro build from the back. As with the Blues, that sometimes proves costly - Hull's second goal on Wednesday came as Lewis O'Brien was caught in possession after a slack pass from keeper Seny Dieng.

But Carrick was in no mood to entertain suggestions after the game that his style needs to change.

"When is the right time to not do it?" he asked. "You get your success from it, so when do you decide we’re not going to do it now, when that’s what we’re good at and what we get our success from?

"When you concede, it’s easy to say it’s a bad time to do it, we shouldn’t be doing it, or whatever.

"When we get the rewards, it’s fantastic football. I can’t fault the boys. All teams in this league who play in that way have conceded goals in that manner at times."

East Anglian Daily Times: Centre-back Matt Clarke has been excellent this seasonCentre-back Matt Clarke has been excellent this season (Image: PA Images)
Rallying cry from Clarke

One of Boro's best players this season is a familiar face to Town fans - former academy graduate Matt Clarke. 

Now 27, Clarke left the Blues for Portsmouth in June 2016 before signing for Brighton for £3.4m three years later. He never played for the Seagulls though and ended up at Boro in August 2022.

He's revived his career this season, after a year out with injury, playing 24 games at the heart of the Boro backline.

And he too believes his side can still make the top six. 

"You've seen it over the last few days, you look at the fixtures and think the top teams will win them all, but that's just not the case," he insisted.

"You have to believe there's an opening there for us, it's up to us to keep that going. We're desperate to keep this run going.

"We're on a good streak, we're not giving up goals too easily and we're not losing games and we're desperate to keep that."

Of the trip to Town, he added: "These are the sort of games you want to be involved in. Let's have it. We'll go there and believe we can do what it takes to win the game."

East Anglian Daily Times: Emmanuel Latte Lath is Boro's leading scorer - and in good formEmmanuel Latte Lath is Boro's leading scorer - and in good form (Image: PA Images)
Ones to watch

Ivorian striker Emmanuel Latte Lath has been key to the recent run of good form, with six goals in his last nine games. He has 13 for the season, to lead Carrick's men.

Finn Azaz scored the vital equaliser at Hull City on Wednesday and is always a danger on the right, while Sammy Silvera could well get the nod on the left today and is very positive and direct.

Isaiah Jones is the club's second-leading scorer with seven strikes, and he may well line-up at right wing-back today - a role where he's played his best football.

The aforementioned Clarke's tussle with Kieffer Moore - if the big Welsh striker starts again - will also be fascinating. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Finn Azaz is always a danger Finn Azaz is always a danger (Image: PA)
Formation switch?

Boro usually play 4-2-3-1, but there are suggestions locally they may switch to the wing-back system today in a bid to counter Town's style, rather than go toe-to toe.

Potential XI (3-4-3): Dieng; Ayling, van den Berg, Clarke; Jones, Howson, O'Brien, Engel; Azaz, Lath, Silvera.