FOR a competiton that is rapidly turning into a footballing joke, there were precious few laughs for a makeshift Middlesbrough side soundly beaten by Joe Royle's Ipswich at Portman Road on Wednesday night.

The former League Cup has had many incarnations since becoming the Worthington Cup, but the trend that Sir Alex Ferguson started has become commonplace.

Fergie believed Coca-Cola - as the Cup was known - was for kids and it appears Worthington is now the choice for a new generation.

The youngsters were out in force as three first-half goals did for Boro, whose defending was at times shambolic, and Franck Queudrue's late strike merely glossed over a night to forget for Steve McClaren.

McClaren had labelled the trip to East Anglia as 'ridiculous timing', sandwiched in-between Monday's 2-0 reverse in the Tyne-Tees derby at Newcastle, and Saturday's home clash against Premiership leaders Liverpool.

Whatever he really thinks of the Worthington Cup is anyone's guess, and the Boro boss took the opportunity to blood 17-year-old Stockton lad Andrew Davies, with the defender making his debut for the Teessiders.

There was little resemblance to the team that started against Newcastle on Monday night, with only Franck Queudrue and Szilard Nemeth starting their second game in 48 hours.

With Davies and Tony Vidmar centre-backs, Colin Cooper slotted in at left-back with Queudrue pushing up into midfield.

Ipswich gave the captain's armband to Harlepool-born Mark Venus, who was joined in the East Anglian starting line-up by another former Pool man, Tommy Miller.

Ex-Sunderland defender Chris Makin also started, but among those missing from the Ipswich line-up was Newcastle target Darren Ambrose, with the free-scoring midfielder rested by manager Joe Royle.

Boro appeared to be still coming to terms with their irregular starting line-up when they found themselves one down inside two minutes.

There seemed little danger when Jamie Clapham picked up possession in central midfield but he strode purposefully forward then laid the ball into the path of Dane Thomas Gaardsoe.

Quite what the centre-back was doing at centre-forward was anyone's guess, but judging by his finish he'd certainly played there before.

Taking the ball in his stride on the left of the box he cooly lifted the ball over Mark Crossley with the challenge from Robbie Stockdale failing to materialise.

The back-four retained the look of strangers in the Ipswich night for the opening quarter which allowed the home side to take the game to Boro.

A mix-up on 17minutes allowed Fabian Wilnis to warm Vidmar's cockles, and soon after a long punt had Darren Bent homing in on goal only for the ball to squirm horribly off his boot.

But to their credit Boro settled with Carlos Marinelli and Franck Queudrue finally coming to the fore in midfield.

An effort from Allan Johnston flew wide and then Queudrue exchanged passes with Nemeth on the edge of the box but his right-foot effort was badly off target.

Luke Wilkshire then forced the first save from James Pullen with a snapshot but just as Boro threatened to get back into the game, Ipswich virtually put it beyond them with two goals in four minutes.

The impressive Miller did well to put Clapham clear on 40 minutes and he fired the second from the edge of the box, before Boro's defence went to sleep soon after.

Firstly they backed off Wilnis to allow him to cross from the right, and then decided not to bother marking Bent who easily headed home the third from eight yards.

McClaren decided to attempt to plug the defensive gaps by switching to a back three with Stockdale and Queudrue at wing-backs, and it seemed damage limitation was the second-half exercise.

But Ipswich kept coming forward and Boro's defence kept making mistakes.

On 49 minutes Crossley fumbled a Bent effort, only for the Boro defence to clear, and then Vidmar was booked after tripping Bent 30 yards out.

35-year-old Venus took a Matthew Hoggard-style run-up but his thunderbolt was straight into the body of Crossley.

Boro's defence appeared all at sea with only debutant Davies appearing to do his first-team prospects any favours.

The visitors rarely threatened up front and McClaren decided to give Northern Irish youngster Brian Close and Durham's Jamie Cade their first team bows.

The bulky Close managed to get his name in the book with an all-action display, but the game was over by the time Queudrue latched onto a Johnston through ball on 87 minutes to bring some semblance of respectability to the scoreline.

A late Bent effort from 25-yards bounced back off the bar and, in truth, another goal would not have flattered the home side who were well worthy winners.