MIDDLESBROUGH’S captain versatile is looking forward to playing a bit of football tonight after “watching a tennis match” for most of his goalscoring return.
Matthew Bates had been out injured for nine weeks before being thrown into the weekend’s dogfight at Sheffield United in the centre of midfield.
It was the first time the 24-year-old had played outside of defence since the club’s Premier League days – and he soon noticed the difference in style after getting neck strain watching balls fly over his head!
The physical nature of the game proved Boro boss Tony Mowbray’s defensive selection right, and it came with an added bonus when Bates latched on to Andrew Taylor’s flick to score the opener in the 2-1 victory.
But Bates is expecting a different game tonight at Portman Road against an Ipswich Town side who like to get the ball down and play with the likes of Jimmy Bullard pulling the strings.
“The safer we get, the more we can relax and try to play football and the fans will see what they are going to see next season from us,” said Bates, whose side is now a comfortable 11 points clear of the relegation zone.
“It wasn’t a football game on Saturday, it was a battle and a scrap. But that’s football in this division.
“We think Ipswich will be a lot different than Sheffield. They will try and pass the ball and it will be two evenly-matched sides, and hopefully we will come out on top.”
Competition in the centre of Boro’s team is now fierce as Stephen McManus returned from a long lay-off to put in a big performance alongside Seb Hines on Saturday while Andrew Davies warmed the bench.
And with Rhys Williams and Bates both happy to move up into midfield and Julio Arca ready in the wings, it will even be hard for Mowbray to find room for Kevin Thomson.
The Scot is back in the Boro squad after a long injury lay-off and Mowbray may give him a run out at some point tonight.