Mick McCarthy's unpredictable back four face test against free-scoring Bournemouth

icon mccarthy2 April ~ Tomorrow, for the second game running, Ipswich find themselves facing the Championship leaders and once again the outcome seems impossible to predict. Prior to the international break, Town had an away fixture at then-leaders Watford. Despite a distinctly wobbly few weeks since Christmas, Mick McCarthy's side came away with a 1-0 win thanks to a 95th-minute goal from substitute Richard Chaplow.

That Chaplow has been signed on loan by promotion-chasing Ipswich from relegation-bound Millwall, where he had been frozen out and lost all hope of a first-team future, neatly encapsulates the marginal and random nature of the Championship itself.

Prior to Christmas, Ipswich were making an unexpected but apparently solid push for automatic promotion. Assisted in no small part by the goals of the division's leading scorer Daryl Murphy, Town put a long and consistent run together which saw them briefly top the table on Boxing Day. Since then, a series of unfortunate defensive moments have seen them slip away, but narrow recent wins over Bolton and then Watford have kept McCarthy's side in top six contention.

The most conspicuous wobbles came at Norwich – a televised 2-0 defeat put a significant dampener on the general mood in Suffolk – and at Middlesbrough, where an encouraging first-half display was somewhat fatally undermined by a catalogue of defensive aberrations which left Town on the wrong end of a 4-1 defeat.

The contribution of Murphy, who at the age of 32 is having his best-ever goalscoring season by some way, can't be overlooked: particularly as so much of the season has seen him rampage without first-choice partner David McGoldrick alongside him. Comfortably Town's most gifted player, McGoldrick has once again been blighted by the injuries which have prevented him from reaching the level that his talents and awareness would otherwise justify.

The biggest challenge for Ipswich on Friday will be to contain free-scoring Bournemouth, who themselves have defied expectation by going into Easter in pole position for promotion to the Premier League. Town's spirited but too-frequently-confused back four may put in one of the solid, organised and disciplined displays that their manager has made his (admirable) signature contribution, or they may collapse, fumble and stumble like a shy schoolkid at his first disco. It could end 1-0 or 1-5. Basically the outcome of Friday night's game depends on whether centre-back Tommy Smith falls over or not. Good luck negotiating that with the bookies. Gavin Barber

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