McKenna: Birmingham Will Come Here and Will Want to Impose Themselves - Ipswich Town News

Third-placed Town host Birmingham City in a rare Saturday 3pm kick-off looking for their fourth victory on the bounce.

The Blues will be hosting their first Saturday 3pm kick-off since the 2-1 home victory over Coventry on December 2nd.

Birmingham are currently 15th in the Championship with Blues legend Tony Mowbray their third manager of the season.

John Eustace, now in the Blackburn Rovers hotseat, was in charge at St Andrew’s at the start of the campaign but was sacked in favour of Wayne Rooney with his side sixth in the division.

Mowbray took over on January 7th following Rooney’s sacking after the former England captain’s disastrous spell - two wins in 15 - and since then they have won four - including the last two - drawn one and lost three in all competitions.

They beat Sunderland 2-1 at St Andrew’s on Saturday, a result which will have given Mowbray and assistant Mark Venus a great deal of satisfaction, the pair having been jettisoned by the Black Cats in December.

Since then, it was announced that Mowbray would spend six-to-eight weeks away from the club to receive treatment for a medical problem with Venus standing in. Town fans play to show their support to their former centre-half and coach as the clock ticks past the five-minute mark during Saturday's match.

Away from home this season, Birmingham have won three, drawn two and lost 11 with one of those victories having come since the more recent change of boss, a 2-1 success at Stoke.

The Midlanders are among the lowest scorers in the division with only six teams having scored fewer than their total of 37, while just eight sides have conceded more than the 48 they have shipped over the course of the campaign.

On their travels, Birmingham have recorded the fourth-fewest points in the Championship, 11, and have scored only 14 times in 16 matches, the fifth-fewest in the division and have conceded 30, the sixth highest.

Reflecting on the effect Mowbray has had on the squad since he took charge, Town boss Kieran McKenna said: "He and Mark have had a good impact. I think it's a really good profile of a squad for them.

"I think they've already shown that they're able to implement their ideas and the mentality that they want to put into that team, and they've had a good impact and a couple of good wins and some really good performances as well.

"Even in the FA Cup against Leicester it was an excellent performance in the first half [before ultimately losing 3-0]. So, they've already made a good impact and we know we're in for a tough game.”

Reflecting on the 2-2 draw at St Andrew’s in November, Rooney’s fourth match in charge, McKenna recalled: "It was a tough game, it was very early in the new manager’s regime at that point and there was still a really big atmosphere before the game.

"And they got off to a really good start and imposed themselves on us and it took a lot of character to get back in the game, and then some really good quality in the second half as well.

"In terms of similarities, there are still quite a few. I think there will be quite a few of the same personnel, of course.

"In that game, Birmingham played a really high-energy, aggressive front-foot style and I think that's similar to what Tony wants to implement as well. So I think the challenge will be quite similar.

"Tony's teams are really attacking and possession-minded as well, and I know that Birmingham will come here and they'll want to impose themselves on the ball and take the ball, and it's going to be a challenge for us to get the ball back off them.

"I think it's already a very good squad. I think it's full of really talented individuals and good athleticism, but I think Tony and Mark will be putting their stamp on it as well, which should make for a tough but really good football match.”

Having come from behind to claim all three points against Rotherham in midweek, the Blues have now taken 25 points from losing positions this season.

McKenna is pleased with that stat but at the same time preferring that his side doesn’t go behind quite so often.

"Of course, we'd like to have got the first goal more,” he admitted. "But I've said it many times, the step up in the division is really, really high and teams at times have been really clinical against us very often with the first opportunity or the first half-opportunity they've got in the game and we've found ourselves behind, so full credit to the players for the way that they've stuck to the task. 

"I think very often it's not necessarily been late changes and a gung-ho comeback, I think more typically, like Tuesday night in the first half, it's been more about sticking to the plan, not being put off by a setback and redoubling down on what we do well.

"That's what's brought us back into the games and very often we've got the goals back early and turned the deficit into a lead pretty early in the game, so I think that's a big credit to the players and the way that they've worked.”

While there are familiar faces on the St Andrew’s coaching staff, there is a familiar face on the pitch with former Blues midfielder Andre Dozzell having joined on loan in January.

"He's not someone who I know, but someone I've watched plenty of as a youth player and obviously a very talented midfield player,” McKenna said.

"I think he's found a good fit for himself in Birmingham and the style of play, and he's playing very well, so he's certainly someone that we're going to have to try and limit his influence as best as we can on Saturday.”

Jay Stansfield is a player TWTD first revealed McKenna was keen on back in the summer of 2022 with the Blues again showing interest this January. However, the on-loan Fulham man remained at St Andrew’s.

"Jay's a very good player,” he said. "He certainly is the profile of player that we've looked at over the last few windows, to be honest, but we weren't able to bring him to the club for different reasons at different times, but he's a very good player. 

"But I think Birmingham have a lot of really good players. I have to say I think the recruitment in the summer was excellent, I think the profile of players, they’ve got some young, really athletic, technically-good players and they've got quality and depth all over the pitch. 

"Looking at the squad list, they’ve certainly got huge options in different positions, they've got some real qualities in the squad and they're a team that I think everyone fancied at the start of the season to certainly be in the upper half if not upper echelons of the table. 

"We know what they're capable of, we know they're a good team, I know a lot of their individual players pretty well, certainly the likes of Ethan Laird and the boys have come through some of the academies and we're gonna have to be ready. 

"But I know Mark will be bringing them here knowing that we're a really good team as well, we've got good players, we've got an imposing style of playing, we've got a fantastic crowd, so I think both teams will have respect for each other it should be a really good football match and we'll do everything we can to come out on top.”

Prior to Town’s match, second-placed Leeds will be in action on Friday night at home to leaders Leicester [which ended 3-1 to Leeds, moving them three points ahead of the Blues].

McKenna says he’ll be keeping an eye on that game: "I'll probably have a little watch as they’re two really good teams who I've got respect for, and I still really enjoy watching football, so I think that'll be a fantastic game.

"Friday night the wife usually tends to have a little bit more control of what goes on TV, but I'll certainly try and get to watch a bit of it.”

Fourth-placed Southampton host 21st-placed Millwall, who are now once again under the management of Neil Harris, on Saturday afternoon.

McKenna may again look at one or two tweaks to his starting line-up for the Blues’ fourth match in 11 days.

Vaclav Hladky will be in goal with a question mark over Harry Clarke’s involvement, the right-back having suffered a severe dead leg against the Millers.

If Clarke doesn’t make it, then Axel Tuanzebe could return to the XI, while McKenna has other options including Lewis Travis, who has played that role for parent club Blackburn this season, and Dominic Ball.

At the heart of the defence, McKenna will again probably opt for Luke Woolfenden and Cameron Burgess. Massimo Luongo seems likely to return in central midfield alongside skipper Sam Morsy.

Eleven-goal top scorer Nathan Broadhead seems set to return on the left of the three with Conor Chaplin in the middle and Wes Burns on the right.

At his pre-match press conference on Thursday, Venus explained how things will work while Mowbray is away from the club.

"He rang me last night about training on Tuesday so he is watching everything from afar,” the former central defender told BirminghamLive.

"We chat regularly and he is still sort of guiding me, really. I think he is going to watch all the training and all the games and he will be on the phone.

"[During a game] he’s not going to [have a] walkie talkie, I think he’s going to leave it to the staff on the match days. We’ll get on with it.”

Venus says Mowbray has received messages from hundreds of well-wishers since news of his ill health broke on Monday.

"I think he’s OK,” he said. "I just want to say on behalf of him, he’s had an incredible response to stepping away, the wishes from everyone inside and outside football has been amazing.”

Mowbray and Venus have worked together at a number of clubs since first meeting during their time as players at Town.

"We got on well as footballers and I think we had the same beliefs of how football should be played,” the former Wolves man recalled.

"I was fortunate Tony wanted me to go and work with him and 20 years on I feel proud we’ve had some good clubs and stayed in the top part of football for that duration.”

Reflecting on Town’s campaign, he added: "I think they’ve had an amazing season, they have done so well to hang onto the coattails of the three relegated teams. They have got a really good young coach and the whole town is behind the football club.

"Another one I’ve got links with. I have a lot of affection for the football club. I think I got my best years in football from Ipswich.”

Venus was instrumental in Birmingham signing former Blues midfielder Dozzell on loan in January.

"He has definitely been the footballer that I thought he was,” Venus continued. "Everyone can see the footballer that he is.

"He is a good technical player, I think he suits the way we try to play the game, and he has a lot of potential. We are trying to maximise that out of him really, he is doing fine.”

The visitors will be without Alfie Chang (knee), George Hall (hamstring) and Alex Pritchard (calf) due to injury, but have Dion Sanderson back having returned to training a fortnight ago following an ankle problem. Centre-back Kevin Long left the club to join MLS side Toronto FC earlier in the week.

Historically, Town have had the better record in fixtures between the sides, winning 35 times (32 in the league), drawing 19 (19) and losing 30 (24).

In November at St Andrew’s, sub Marcus Harness scored twice as the Blues came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Birmingham City, extending a club record unbeaten league away run to 16 matches.

The home side took the lead in the 13th minute via Stansfield and were the better team in the first half, however, the Blues improved after the break, but went two behind on 51 when Burgess diverted a cross into his own net.

Town looked set for their first away defeat of the season until Harness came off the bench to net on 79 and 89 to claim a point with another sub Dane Scarlett playing a part in both goals.

The teams last met at Portman Road in April 2019 when Town’s relegation to the third tier for first time in 62 years was confirmed after a 1-1 draw.

The visitors took the lead in the seventh minute via Lukas Jutkiewicz before Gwion Edwards netted the equaliser a minute after the restart.

The Blues had the better of a second half in which Alan Judge hit the post but were unable to find the winner which would have put off a relegation, which had seemed inevitable for some months, for a further week.

Town forward Sone Aluko was brought up in Birmingham and came through their academy as a youngster, making one senior appearance, as a sub in a League Cup tie against Hereford in 2007.

Birmingham manager Mowbray was a player with the Blues between 1995 and 2000, scoring in the 4-2 play-off final victory over Barnsley in what was his final game.

He subsequently became a member of George Burley’s staff before moving into management and coming close to being appointed to the Town job on a number of occasions.

His assistant Venus, another member of the Wembley 2000 side, who was also one of the Blues’ top performers in the Premier League the following season. Venus was with Town between 1997 and 2003.

Former Blues midfielder Dozzell joined the Midlanders on loan from QPR in January. Dozzell, the son of Blues’ legend Jason, made 78 starts and 15 sub appearances for Town, scoring three times, including a debut goal aged 16, following in his father’s footsteps.

Saturday’s referee is Gavin Ward from Surrey, who has shown 86 yellow cards and two red in 20 games so far this season.

Ward’s most recent Town match was the 2-0 defeat at West Brom in November in which he booked Morsy, Brandon Williams and one Baggie.

Earlier in the season, he was in the middle for the 3-2 home victory over Plymouth in which he yellow-carded Woolfenden, Luongo, Williams and Edmundson as well as two Pilgrims.

Argyle were adamant they should have been awarded a penalty and Edmundson shown a red card after sliding in on Mustapha Bundu just before half-time, however, replays of the incident were inconclusive at best.

That was Ward’s second Town match this season having already visited Suffolk for the 3-2 home victory over Cardiff in which he booked Williams, Broadhead, Burns, Clarke and three Bluebirds.

He was also in the middle for the pre-season friendly against Luton at Colchester, in which he kept his cards in his pocket throughout, and the 3-0 win at Peterborough in April in which he booked Morsy, Chaplin, Burns and one Posh player.

Ward was in charge of the 2-0 home defeat to Rotherham in November 2021 in which he again yellow-carded Morsy and three of the visitors.

Before that, he refereed the 2-0 defeat at Fleetwood in March the same year in which he cautioned Gwion Edwards and two home players.

Prior to that he took control of the 3-2 home victory over Leeds in the final Championship game prior to relegation from the Championship in May 2019 in which he booked Jackson, Toto Nsiala, and one White, and showed Blues captain Luke Chambers a late straight red card for a foul for which he also awarded the visitors a penalty.

Ward was also the man in the middle for the 6-1 pre-season thrashing at Charlton ahead of the start of the 2017/18 campaign and refereed the 1-0 away victory over the MK Dons in December 2015 in which he yellow-carded Chambers, Jonathan Douglas and Freddie Sears.

A month earlier he had taken charge of the 2-2 draw at home to Wolves in which he again cautioned Chambers and two visiting players.

Ward also took control of the 3-1 home victory over Cardiff in April of the same year in which he booked Cole Skuse, Tyrone Mings and Christophe Berra and two visiting players. Prior to that he refereed the 2-0 defeat at Rotherham that February.

Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Burgess, Morsy (c), Travis, Luongo, Ball, Burns, Chaplin, Broadhead, Harness, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Moore, Al-Hamadi, Jackson.

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