MIDDLESBROUGH’S 2013 slide is threatening to destroy the club’s hopes of a return to the Premier League.
Boro’s wait for a point this year goes on after they suffered their seventh defeat in their last eight away npower Championship trips.
Tony Mowbray’s side were taken apart by the team who began the day in relegation trouble and without their manager after Mick McCarthy was laid low with illness.
The Blues chief was forced to stay at home because of a bug that also kept him away from the training ground all week.
However, Town produced a sparkling performance to put a smile on his face, thanks to two goals from Tommy Smith and one apiece by strikers David McGoldrick and Aaron Mclean.
It is Boro who are looking in a state of distress.
After starting 2013 as strong candidates for automatic promotion they are now clinging to sixth place – the final play-off spot – and are just three points better off than Derby County in seventh.
Mowbray said: “It was a poor performance from us and there are no excuses.
“We came here in a positive mood thinking we could get three points, hoping to push on and put pressure on the top two again.
“Now we’re looking for a reaction because this wasn’t good enough.
“We’ve lost four on the bounce and we either curl up and die or come out fighting, to show our credentials for a top-six place.
“We’ve got a great chance to do that this week with matches against Barnsley and Leeds.
“Ipswich are a hard and honest team to play against. We got frustrated that they weren’t letting us move the ball around, because our game is all about the fluency of our passing.
“But we’re better than we showed [on Saturday].
“We have to roll our sleeves up, get back to working hard on the training pitch and get back to winning ways.
“You have to put these games behind you.”
Middlesbrough handed former England international Kieron Dyer his debut and they started positively, but both defences held tight and Andre Bikey’s third-minute free-kick was caught easily by Scott Loach in the Ipswich goal.
Aaron Cresswell’s corner in the 12th minute found Luke Chambers but the Town defender’s header went wide, before Boro went on the attack and Grant Leadbitter shot from distance without reward.
Both sides exchanged further shots in quick succession, all coming from range, as Emmanuel Ledesma fired over for the visitors and Carlos Edwards’ snap effort missed Steele’s left-hand post.
Lukas Jutkiewicz’s cross needed a superb headed clearance from Cresswell but the hosts had a succession of corners while Steele pulled off the game’s first real save on 27 minutes to deny McGoldrick after he and McLean combined with some slick passing.
Ipswich were in some measure of control as Daryl Murphy shot into the sidenetting from a difficult angle, and the pressure finally paid off on 38 minutes as Cresswell’s accurate corner found Smith and the centre-back cropped up at the near post to powerfully head in.
Boro boss Tony Mowbray brought on Josh McEachran for Ledesma at half-time, but they were no better for it as within two minutes of the restart McGoldrick won the ball in midfield before powering through and shooting from outside the box for Town’s second.
It was all Ipswich thereafter as Cresswell looped the ball for McLean to chase and the latter shook off his man before curling home expertly from outside the box.
Edwards then took the long-range option but was denied by Steele while Luke Hyam saw a shot go just wide after good work from McLean, who was then replaced by Frank Nouble.
Ipswich looked content to hold possession but Smith had other ideas with 12 minutes left as he headed in another corner, this time delivered by Edwards, who was denied a goal from distance by Steele just moments later.
New Town arrival and substitute Anthony Wordsworth had time for another effort but could only fire well over the bar in stoppage time.