McCarthy: Third place will cause men­tal scars

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL LEAGUE - By Ja­son Mel­lor at the River­side

Mick McCarthy has been round the block enough times to en­sure it is worth lis­ten­ing when he ex­presses an opin­ion, es­pe­cially when it comes to the dif­fi­cul­ties faced in at­tempt­ing to earn pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship.

The 57-year-old has guided Sun­der­land and Wolves to the top flight and, with a seven-game win­less run hav­ing ruled his Ip­swich side out of con­tention, he is happy to pass com­ment on an in­creas­ingly in­trigu­ing three-way fight for a toptwo fin­ish.

Mid­dles­brough, af­ter draw­ing a blank at home for the first time in three months, are sand­wiched be­tween lead­ers Burn­ley and third­placed Brighton, with the trio level on points and only three be­tween them in terms of goal dif­fer­ence. It could not be much tighter.

The Teesside club have the first op­por­tu­nity to ex­ert pres­sure on their ri­vals when they travel to Birm­ing­ham City on Fri­day, be­fore the other two re­turn to ac­tion next Mon­day.

Brighton’s fi­nal-day visit to the River­side Sta­dium on Satur­day week looks in­creas­ingly like a win­ner-takes-all ticket to au­to­matic pro­mo­tion, and McCarthy de­liv­ered a stark warn­ing for which­ever of the trio misses out. “They’ll be men­tally scarred, no doubt about it,” he said.

“If you drop out at the last knock­ings, you’ll be sick and then it’s a dif­fi­cult one to rally your­selves. Ev­ery­one will say you’ll be all right, you’re still in the play-offs, but it’s such a big dis­ap­point­ment.

“They are three good teams up there but you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily back the one that fin­ishes third to go up be­cause, on their day, any of the top six could go through. I don’t know what it is about foot­ball, it cre­ates that pes­simism in all of us, but at this stage, it’s about hold­ing your nerve.” Draw­ing a blank: Boro striker Jor­dan Rhodes tries to fash­ion a chance

For Mid­dles­brough, who lost last sea­son’s play-off fi­nal to Nor­wich City, the men­tal scars from miss­ing out on au­to­matic pro­mo­tion would be per­haps even deeper. Jor­dan Rhodes, the £9 mil­lion for­ward, struck a post in spurn­ing the chance of a hat-trick in a game of missed op­por­tu­ni­ties for the hosts, who are look­ing to end a seven-year ex­ile from the top flight.

“We’re still in a very good po­si­tion with two games to go, and it’s in our own hands,” Grant Lead­bit­ter, the cap­tain, in­sisted, echo­ing the pos­i­tive sen­ti­ments of his man­ager, Ai­tor Karanka. The mid­fielder added: “It couldn’t be any tighter, but that’s this divi­sion all over, isn’t it? In the end, the best two teams will go straight up.”

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