MIDDLESBROUGH boss Steve McClaren has slammed the "ridiculous timing'' of tonight's Worthington Cup third-round clash with Ipswich at Portman Road.

McClaren, still smarting from the unlucky 2-0 defeat at Newcastle, is furious that his side face a trip to Suffolk only 48 hours after the Premiership derby, which was switched to Monday night to be shown live on Sky Sports.

Following the cup-tie, Boro must prepare for Saturday's test at home to Premiership leaders Liverpool.

McClaren's complaint echoed that of Newcastle counterpart Sir Bobby Robson, who is equally unhappy that the Magpies have to host Everton tonight in the Worthington Cup ahead of a visit to Arsenal on Saturday.

However, the Premier League yesterday insisted that both Newcastle and Boro had to agree to their game being moved before it could be scheduled for screening by Sky. "I think it's ridiculous timing in a cup competition which we take very seriously,'' stormed McClaren.

"We want to win every game, but the Worthington Cup is a great opportunity to progress.

"To throw up a fixture like Newcastle on a Monday, Liverpool on a Saturday and throw Ipswich in between, makes it very difficult.

"That disappoints me, but we have to live with it. We'll make sure we send a team to Ipswich that's capable of winning.''

McClaren's mood was not helped by the manner of his side's defeat at Newcastle, where referee Graham Barber denied Boro what their manager described as two "stonewall'' penalties.

Boro have now picked up only one point from their last three games, but McClaren, who last week quit as England's assistant coach to concentrate on club matters, sees no reason to change the way his side plays.

"We were disappointing - and we admitted that - when we lost at Charlton, but at home to Leeds we were very good and should have won,'' said McClaren.

"Again, against Newcastle, we showed the progress we've made in a year. People have seen the way we have set out to play and that's not going to change.

"But we knew this was going to be a tough spell. We're still learning and that's the difference.''

Boro will again be without striker Alen Boksic, who missed the Newcastle game because of a virus. McClaren confirmed: "Alen has been ill and he hasn't started training yet.''

New manager Joe Royle has made his intentions at Ipswich clear by resting a host of the struggling First Division side's players for the Boro tie.

Skipper Matt Holland, Darren Ambrose, Wayne Brown and Jim Magilton have all been left out of a team which includes former Hartlepool United goal-getter Tommy Miller, a Boro target before his move to Portman Road.

Injuries have also accounted for John McGreal and ex-Boro striker Alun Armstrong, and Ipswich will field no more than four of the side that won at home to Boro in a Premiership clash in April.

Ipswich are languishing near the relegation zone after losing 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday, and Royle is placing the onus on the League. Former Sunderland full-back Chris Makin said: "Joe has been brought in with one aim in mind - to get this club back into the Premiership.

''He has done it with Oldham and Manchester City and now he's out to achieve it here.''

Top scorer Pablo Counago is suspended and Armstrong, who has a hamstring problem, joins Marcus Bent and Richard Naylor on the injury list. That leaves only 18-year-old Darren Bent and Richard Logan, who has not played for the first team since January 2001, available from the club's out-and-out strikers.

l Boro left-back Franck Queudrue faces a three-match ban after picking up his second red card in as many games.

The Frenchman misses the Liverpool game as punishment for his sending-off in the 2-2 draw with Leeds for two bookable offences.

Now, having been dismissed at Newcastle for two more yellow cards, he sits out the visit of Manchester City on Saturday, November 23, and the trip to West Brom a week later