HOW Middlesbrough would dearly love to be going into their next two games with starring rather than supporting roles in the Championship's automatic promotion race.

But regardless of how the coming weeks play out for today's opponents Ipswich, Michael Carrick believes the vast majority of the teams in the second tier can take encouragement from how the Tractor Boys have fared this season and gone toe-to-toe with the relegated clubs who are helped by the might of parachute payments.

Leicester, Leeds and Southampton have all - as expected - taken residence at the top of the Championship this season after coming down from the top flight last term, but while Saints have slipped up and are now seemingly destined for the play-offs, Daniel Farke and Enzo Maresca's sides still have company in the form of this year's surprise package in Ipswich, who this time last year were in League One.

Well, they might have surprised some, but Michael Carrick isn't at all shocked to see how the side his Boro team will face today have fared, for he knows just how good their manager Kieran McKenna is.

Carrick and McKenna are close friends and former Manchester United coaching colleagues.


“All I can say is, the job he’s done this season is almost unprecedented," said Carrick.

"In terms of where they’ve come from to the amount of points they’ve got. You look at the teams they’re competing with - teams that have come down and all have top squads because of the money involved.

"To come through and do the job he has with a consistent squad, I might be wrong but I can’t think of many who have done that to that level. I’m not surprised because he’s good at what he does.

"I’m not surprised having worked so close to him at United for so long. Knowing how he is, how his brain works and who he is and what he is capable of, there’s no surprise.

"He’s a top, top coach, manager now, and he’s proving that. I’m delighted for him. Obviously we’ve got our own agenda and we want to win, of course, but I am delighted to see him doing so well. He’s got a really bright future, and present as well because he’s flying at the moment. I’m really pleased for him.

"But we’ve got something to play for on Saturday, so we’ll be doing everything we can for us to win the game. I hope for his sake though that they find a way to pull it off."

Carrick still hopes Boro can pull off a dramatic late charge into the top six but anything less than three points at Portman Road this afternoon will almost certainly mark the end of their already slim play-off hopes.

If Boro do miss out this season, they'll prepare for next term looking at Ipswich as leading lights when it comes to upsetting the sides coming down.

“It can be done," said Carrick.

"He (McKenna) has assembled a consistent squad and largely that team has been the one that has played a lot. You can see that there a trust element between them. His ideas and the way he goes about his work, you can see clearly what a good job he’s done. You can’t really underestimate that because I can’t imagine it’s been done many times by a team coming up."

Boro are expected to again be without Hayden Hackney today, with Carrick stressing patience in the midfielder's return from a knee injury. Boro are eight games unbeaten on the back of the midweek draw at Hull.

Boro probable XI: Dieng, Ayling, Van den Berg, Clarke, Engel; Howson, O'Brien; Jones, Azaz, Greenwood, Latte Lath