GIVEN their current predicament at the foot of the Championship, it seems incredible to think of Ipswich Town riding high in the Premier League and gracing the European stage.

It was a special era in the club’s history, at the turn of the millennium, and one man who remembers it vividly – and who also played for Saturday’s opponents, Middlesbrough – is popular former striker Alun Armstrong.

The 43-year-old was snapped up by George Burley in December 2000 - a £500,000 signing - and stayed until September 2004.

He scored eight goals in his first season, the year Town finished fifth in the Premier League, notching against the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, and followed it up with seven the campaign after, including a brace against the mighty Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup.

“I loved my time at Portman Road and didn’t ever want to leave, but the change of manager was a big factor,” said Armstrong, who finished with 19 goals in 94 appearances.

“I wasn’t part of Joe Royle’s plans and that’s football. I understand that more than ever now, as a manager myself.

“We loved living in the area.

“At first my wife was reluctant to move from the North-East but then she followed me down and we settled in Tattingstone.

“We absolutely loved living in the area and were very sad to leave.

“(Former boss) George (Burley) worked with his players and coached us, to get the best out of us.

“Everyone had a point to prove and it was a great bunch of lads, with real camaraderie.

“I loved being in the dressing room with characters like Mark Venus, Tony Mowbray, Jim Magilton and Marcus Stewart.

“There was a real connection both on and off the pitch and in terms of our playing styles, we complimented each other well.

“It was a truly great season and such an achievement – our equivalent of Leicester winning the Premier League.

"It was unheard of for a club like Ipswich to finish fifth in the Premier League. Outstanding.

“We were honest, hard-working lads and there were no big-time Charlies.

"Everyone gave everything for each other.

“There were so many highlights for me, including scoring against Liverpool and at White Hart Lane.

“I also remember scoring twice against Sunderland, too, which was special as a former Newcastle and Boro player.

“We won comfortably but I came off the pitch feeling so disappointed that I hadn’t scored a hat-trick.

“I had so many chances and still kick myself to this day.

"It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Armstrong knows he will always be remembered for his goals against Inter.

He was on target with a header in a 1-0 victory at Portman Road – which he described at the time as "probably the most important goal of my career” – but, despite scoring another goal in the return leg from the penalty spot, Town were knocked out with an aggregate score of 4-2.

“I’ll always be remembered for those goals against Inter,” said Armstrong.

“They define my career and whenever I speak to anyone about my playing days, they speak about those goals.

“To be fair, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life and from the fans’ perspective, they probably look back with even more fondness because of the position the team are in at the moment.

“It highlights what we achieved even more and in hard times, people love to reflect on happy memories.

“The Ipswich fans are different class and I think it’s the only club I’ve been at where you were well-thought of regardless of the result, as long as you gave everything.

“I always look out for their results and hate seeing the club where they are now.

“I know some fans might not like me saying it but it makes you realise what a great job Mick McCarthy did.

“It’s horrible to see the club where they are now.

“They shouldn’t be there and it’s such a shame, but hopefully they can climb to safety and get out of that relegation zone.”

Gateshead-born Armstrong also has a big soft spot for Ipswich’s weekend opponents, Middlesbrough.

“Boro are another great, family club with massive potential,” said the former striker, who joined Boro from Stockport County for £1.6m in February 1998.

“Steve Gibson has worked wonders there and it’s been an unbelievable achievement, to sustain the club’s success.

“Now they need to get back to where they belong – in the Premier League.

“The Championship is the hardest division to get out of but they’re not far away and I dearly hope they do it, because they’re another club that I loved playing for.

“I haven’t got a bad word to say about them and got to know all the staff very well, especially during my time out injured.

“I’ll always remember going back there and scoring twice for Ipswich on Easter Monday 2001.

“It was one of my great moments in football.

“I felt I had a point to prove.

"They probably thought I was finished because of the injury problems I’d had.

“I couldn’t get back in the team and that’s when the opportunity arose to join Ipswich.

“We were losing at the break but I managed to score twice right at the start of the second half.

“I’ll never forget being substituted and getting a standing ovation from all four corners of the ground.

“It’s not often both sets of supporters give a player a round of applause, but they recognised the fact that I always gave everything I'd got.”

Armstrong is still in football and manages Blyth Spartans, in National League North.

By coincidence, he was up against another former Town hero, Tommy Miller, on Boxing Day.

Miller is assistant manager at Spennymoor Town and the sides drew 2-2.

“Being a manager is hard work – people probably underestimate how tough it is, because your phone never stops ringing,” he said.

“It can take over your life but it’s also enjoyable and the closest you get to replicating the feeling of winning or scoring.”