McGuinness: A Two or Three-Game Winning Streak and We’re in Contention
Sunday, 18th Apr 2021 11:42
On-loan Arsenal central defender Mark McGuinness believes a two or three-game winning streak would put the Blues firmly back in the play-off picture as Town go into a big week in which they face Northampton away on Tuesday and then AFC Wimbledon at Portman Road next Saturday.
McGuinness returned to the side for the first time under Paul Cook’s management for yesterday’s 0-0 draw at Charlton in which he felt Blues were significantly better than they had been during Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the Dons at Plough Lane, certainly before the break.
“Our first half was much better,” he said. “We moved the ball, retained possession, but just didn’t get that bit in the final third but we build upon it, we got another a clean sheet, and we go on to the next game.”
The 20-year-old, one of five players to come into the team at the Valley, admits there was pressure on the players after the defeat at Wimbledon and with Cook having been highly critical both post-match and prior to the visit to South London.
“Yes, definitely. It was always about a response,” the Republic of Ireland U21 international said. “We knew that losing 3-0 at Wimbledon wasn’t good enough. We need to pick up a little run now to get into the play-offs.
“But I think we’ve responded better. As I said, we moved the ball better, kept the ball better. It’s just that final little bit now.”
McGuinness was pleased to be back in the team for the first time since the home game against Northampton in February, another 0-0 draw, one of seven Town have recorded this season, four in the last six matches.
“Definitely. It’s always good to be out on the grass and getting 90 minutes. I’m happy with today,” he said, and admitted it’s not been easy watching on from the sidelines.
“When you’re not playing, it’s always frustrating, watching the lads. It’s your job, you want to go out and play, but at the end of the day you’re there as part of the team as well, so like today I’m always ready if the gaffer wants me to play.”
Was he surprised to get the nod over skipper Luke Chambers who was dropped to the bench? “I don’t pick the team but, as I said before, I’m always ready for when I’m needed.
“It starts on the training ground, it starts with what we do off the field as well, making sure I’m 100 per cent ready for any opportunity, whether that’s coming on for five minutes or playing the 90 minutes today.”
While goals have been hard to come by, the Blues have achieved 17 clean sheets in League One this season, the fourth-highest in the division.
“Dfensively we’ve been solid,” the Slough-born defender said. “A good foundation to build on now. Just in the final third we need to create a bit more and then get that final end product.”
He admits that with the frontmen currently misfiring - Town have now gone 439 minutes without finding the target - goals need to come from elsewhere, including from the centre-halves.
“We’ve always got an opportunity being 6ft 4in tall at set pieces,” he said. “But also building up from the back, like we did a bit in the first half.
“The second half, we got a bit sloppy at the end but building up from the back in the first half, we passed the ball better, we broke them down and we got chances, it’s just that end product now.”
At Charlton McGuinness was joined at the heart of the defence by Luke Woolfenden, who he played alongside for much of the season under Paul Lambert, but he says he’s happy partnering any of the club’s senior centre-halves.
“Whether it’s Luke or Chambo or Toto, I think we’ve all got relationships with each other and me, and Woolfy have played the majority of the games together,” he added.
Asked how the Blues’ approach differs under new boss Cook with the Blues more direct at times, McGuinness added: “It’s not so much different, I think sometimes you just have to know how to win games and play to our strengths.
“So when we’re under the cosh we’re playing longer balls, and it’s been working for us with James [Norwood] up top. It’s just about playing to win at the end of the day.”
Reflecting on Town’s position in the play-off hunt, ninth, four points off the top six with five left to play, he added: “No one’s running away with it so if we build a two or three-game winning streak and we’re right into contention.”
And this week is one in which the Blues could give themselves that sort of boost with the games against the Cobblers and Dons, 19th and 21st in the table respectively, matches Town ought to win if they’re to stay in the hunt.
“We’ve got a great run-in, we probably couldn’t have asked for a better run-in on paper,” McGuinness continued.
“But, as we’ve said, in this league it’s all up in the air, anyone can beat anyone. We just have to do our best and get on a run, and that starts at Northampton.”
He says the players still believe they can finish in the top six: “Of course. It’s still there, we’re only four points off, it’s definitely not done. We’ve got five more games, so if we pick up two or three wins out of that, we’re straight back in.”
Looking back on his season-long spell with the Blues, in which he has now made 19 starts and one sub appearance, scoring once, he said: “It’s been incredible, I’ve learnt so much being here and I’ll take a lot going away. I’ll really miss it.”
He says he doesn’t yet know Arsenal’s plans for him for next season: “No, at the moment, I’m fully focused on the last three weeks here. We’ll just see what happens when I get back there after the season’s finished.”
But he would be keen on a return to Portman Road for a second campaign if that were to be in the offing: “Of course. It’s a great club and I’ve really enjoyed it, got to know the lads. But look, I can’t talk about next season because at the moment I have no clue what’s going to happen.”
Turning back to the Blues’ play-off prospects and Northampton on Tuesday night, he added: “It’s a must-win if you want to get in there. If we get a good run of games going, then we’re straight back up in there.”
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