Championship play-offs: Do Norwich and Middlesbrough have the psychological edge?

Alex Neil Norwich Sky Bet

In the first of a two-part post looking forward to this weekend's Championship play-offs, we look at the previous encounters between the clubs this season.

The Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-finals kick off on Friday evening with fifth-placed Brentford entertaining fourth-placed Middlesbrough at Griffin Park, before Saturday lunch-time's powder keg meeting between sixth-placed Ipswich Town and third-placed Norwich City at Portman Road.

Early season encounters between the four competing clubs may count for nothing when the tension and pressure kicks in, but in the build-up to this weekend's games all four camps will be searching for that psychological edge, and looking at the four meetings so far this season, it is clear which two teams will be feeling more confident. 

20th September 2014: Middlesbrough 4 Brentford 0

A comprehensive early-season victory propelled 'Boro into the top five for the first time as their long-suffering fans finally entertained thoughts that this could be their year. Aitor Karanka's men controlled the game throughout with goals from Grant Leadbitter and Albert Adomah putting 'Boro 2-0 up after 50 minutes.

Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford then netted his first goal for the Riversiders, and the home team could even afford to have Dean Whitehead sent off on 83 minutes. It mattered little as Kike finished off the scoring in the 89th minute to make it 4-0 and condemn Brentford to what was their heaviest defeat of the season as they slumped to 14th place. 

31st January 2015: Brentford 0 Middlesbrough 1

The Bees had little to cheer from the return fixture either, but it was a much closer contest which in truth 'Boro were fortunate to win. Brentford missed a string of chances and were made to pay the price when a defensive mix-up let in Patrick Bamford who was brought down by the onrushing goalkeeper David Button.

Middlesbrough skipper Grant Leadbitter kept up his 100% record from the penalty spot as he netted his eighth of the season. Then, his teammates repelled Brentford's relentless pressure to record what was their seventh clean sheet in eight games at the time, and a double over Mark Warburton's play-off contenders. 

23rd August 2014: Ipswich Town 0 Norwich City 1

A first-half header from ex-Bournemouth striker Lewis Grabban gave Norwich the points in what was a comfortable away win for Neil Adams' men. Norwich were just finding form having lost their opening game at Wolves but won the next two at home to Watford and Blackburn.

This derby win was therefore a third on the trot, and although Norwich faltered in the Autumn months - leading to Alex Neil being handed the manager's job in January - the win was a sign of things to come. Grabban was guilty of missing other chances as Norwich maintained a slender lead, but in a one-sided contest Mick McCarthy's men rarely threatened an equaliser.

1st March 2015: Norwich City 2 Ipswich Town 0

Norwich recorded a sixth straight victory with another comfortable derby win, as goals in each half from Bradley Johnson and Lewis Grabban - his last goal of the season to date as he succumbed to injury shortly after - gave Norwich the double over their East Anglia rivals.

Johnson opened the scoring with a spectacular strike into the roof of the net on 24 minutes and Grabban doubled the lead when he deflected a Cameron Jerome shot on 62 minutes. By this time clubs were beginning to bunch up at the top of the table and the win put Norwich within three points of first place, as many observers saw their form as a sure sign they would go all the way.  

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