IT was billed as the battle of the former Manchester United coaches – but in their head-to-head at the Riverside, it was Kieran McKenna that came out on top rather than Michael Carrick.

While McKenna was able to celebrate another victory for his promotion-chasing Ipswich side, Carrick was forced to watch his Boro players suffer a third defeat in the last four games. Yes, they have been coming up against decent sides. But this is a mid-season slump the Teessiders could have done without.

The were second best for the vast majority of the afternoon against an Ipswich side who are threatening to follow up last season’s promotion from League One with another rise into the Premier League.

Conor Chaplin’s deflected finish opened the scoring seven minutes before the break, with Omari Hutchinson’s second-half strike confirming Ipswich’s win.

Boro’s best moments came through Emmanuel Latte Lath, but they were few and far between as the hosts failed to seriously threaten Vaclav Hladky in the opposition goal.

Carrick received a pre-match boost when Dael Fry was passed fit to return to the starting line-up, although ultimately Boro were still unable to contain the Ipswich attack. Fry, who was back after a two-match absence because of a hamstring injury, partnered Matt Clarke, who was making his first start in more than a year, at centre-half.

It was always going to be a tough test for the new-look defensive pairing given Ipswich’s position in the automatic-promotion places, but for the opening quarter of the game, both sides were content with cautiously feeling each other out.

The first effort on goal from either team did not come until the 24th minute, and even then it was a scuffed effort from Ipswich forward Nathan Broadhead that was easily gathered by Seny Dieng.

Broadhead fired in another effort that deflected over off Clarke on the half-hour mark, but there had been little sign of either goalkeeper being seriously tested before Ipswich somewhat surprisingly broke the deadlock seven minutes before the break.

Jonny Howson failed to cut out Wes Burns’ cross from the right, with the ball dropping at the feet of Chaplin on the edge of the area. Ipswich’s leading scorer fired in a half-volley, and the ball flicked off Clarke’s head before flying past Dieng.

Boro hadn’t threatened at all at that stage, but they almost grabbed an equaliser within two minutes of conceding the opening goal.

Latte Lath burst infield purposefully from the left-hand side, but his low shot from the edge of the area whistled wide of the right-hand post.

Boro struggled to ask serious questions of the Ipswich defence for most of the afternoon, although Matt Crooks went close from the edge of the area 11 minutes in the second half, firing in a shot that deflected wide via a block from Ipswich centre-half Cameron Burgess.

The hosts threatened again shortly after the hour mark, but while Latte Lath met Dan Barlaser’s free-kick with a deft glanced header, Hladky got down to make a smart save.