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McGreal: Atmosphere Like the Premier League Days
Saturday, 18th Dec 2021 18:48

Town interim manager John McGreal felt the atmosphere at Portman Road ahead of the 1-1 draw with Sunderland was reminiscent of his days playing in the Premier League with the Blues and revealed incoming permanent boss Kieran McKenna spoke to his new players ahead of the match.

McGreal, who was in charge for the first time at Portman Road in his fourth and final match of his temporary spell in the hotseat, was asked about the contrast between the display against the Black Cats and Wednesday .

“I don’t know what happened on Wednesday! What happened Wednesday?” he joked. “I look back at it and think today’s an add-on from Wigan last week, another ex-Premier League club. We felt we could have nicked it last week at Wigan with the performance.

“And I think we’ve done more than enough there to win a game of football, it’s just ironing out those little slots of 10 or 15 minutes in the second half where they’ve equalised. But I thought our boys got back on the front foot.

“It was a plan throughout the week, we knew 30,000 fans were going to come, we know how well they’re performing but we had to go and squash them.

“Everyone was on the front foot, we went a little bit man to man and you’ve got to stand up in front of a big crowd like this and I thought every player, even the subs coming on, put on an unbelievable performance today.”

The Blues took the game to the high-flying Wearsiders right from the start of the match.

“We had to,” McGreal continued. “When you’re getting all your fans turning out in big, big numbers and you’re getting all the flags, you’re excited about it, so we set a plan out throughout the week to be on that front foot.

“It was a bit different at Wigan last week, how that was. We set up in a little bit of a block and that worked to a tee, this one also worked to a tee with that high press.

“And I thought there was some quality throughout, I really did, I thought there was some great quality.

“In the second half, we were getting in and around it, lacking a little bit towards the end in that final third, but I thought throughout we looked dangerous and we looked a really, potent fit team.”

McGreal continued with the 3-5-2 formation utilised in the second half at Barrow and he felt it worked well.

“We’ve thought it from day one but we just felt we couldn’t really do that system from day one. We’ve looked at the squad and it just looks suited into that system,” he said.

“We did it the other night and I’ve looked back at the game and I enjoyed some of the football in the second half at times because a lot of it was in their half and in their defensive third.

“So we just felt we had to be on that front foot today, two boys up top, boys in midfield, man-for-man in midfield, go and win your battle and then play from winning your battle. There was a simple task but you’ve to execute that and I thought the boys did that.”

The former centre-half was pleased to have Wes Burns returning in the right wing-back role.

“He was trying to get involved last week, we’ve really been putting the reins on him,” he said.

“But to last the time he did after the time he’s been out with his hamstring, it’s a credit to how he’s kept himself in condition and the backroom staff as well to get him into that condition.

“That was a highly-charged effort by the boys today and he was focal to it, him and Matt Penney were focal to that front-foot press.”

The one-time Colchester boss says it gives new manager McKenna something to build upon.

“It does,” he continued. “The new gaffer addressed the boys before the match and that’s obviously given them a bit of a bounce as well.

“I’m sure he’ll be pleased watching from the stands, him and Martyn [Pert], it’ll give them plenty of food for thought.

“It was literally just addressing the guys, coming down and introducing himself, which is brilliant. He told me he was going to do that yesterday and I was like ‘Absolutely, it’s your team, gaffer, you get yourself in, see the boys’ and he came about half-one.

“Obviously that’s given a little bit of a lift as well. He’s coming in, he knows what he’s got to work with.

“He’s actually coming in with a full crowd, knowing full well that the fans are here, and that’s the thing, it’s just getting those draws into wins on the pitch.”

What did McKenna say to the players? “He just addressed them, just introduced himself and that was it, just literally saying ‘I’m coming in to introduce myself, leaving the guys [to take the game]’

“He told me yesterday he wasn’t getting involved in any team selections or any prep or whatever. He now picks it up after this game today, which is brilliant.

“He hasn’t gone into anything involved, has just left us to it but obviously it gives a bounce

“When Kieran the gaffer and Martyn as the number two come in, obviously it gives you a bounce because you’re playing now in front of the new gaffer, who has worked under Mourinho and Solskjaer and was a big influence at Man United. Big players at Man United, big egos. It’s a brilliant coup for the club, I really think it is.”

Asked if McKenna said anything about his style of play, McGreal added: “He just addressed the players, that’s it.”

He also hadn’t spoken to him since the final whistle: “I’ve literally gone in there and addressed the players and I’ve come to you guys, the press, that was it.”

Portman Road had 29,005 present, the biggest crowd in six and a half years, and McGreal had praise for the supporters.

“I think this year the fans have been unbelievable,” he said. “Twenty-one thousand, 22,000 consistently, week-in, week-out, 30,000 nearly today. I think there will be other big crowds again in between Christmas and New Year.

“They’re here to stay. There’s new ownership, now there’s a new manager in place, it looks happy times and the January window’s around the corner, we don’t know what might happen in January. There are a lot of positives at the moment.”

McGreal says it was a proud moment to lead his old club out at Portman Road.

“I didn’t think I’d get the chance,” he admitted. “I keep saying it, it’s not about me, it’s the players. But when you’re walking through the tunnel and you see all those flags and the noise and I thought how we started the game and the fans got right behind us, it brings back the memories of the Premier League days when it’s full, do you know what I mean?

“It was unbelievable, and they kept with us again. When they equalised we could have [wilted] but no, credit to the boys, they got back on the front foot and the high press.

“They’ve got to work hard, they have to work hard, it’s not a given. It should be a given but at the moment and throughout it hasn’t been a given week-in, week-out because of the inconsistency levels.

“So now, hopefully, from last Saturday to this Saturday, in the league especially against two top teams, there’s been a really good level of consistency.

“I said to you on Wednesday, I had no doubt these guys would bounce back from Wednesday. I told you that because you see it every day in training, so it’s just unfortunate we didn’t get the win today.”

And it was a performance he can be proud of: “Brilliant, yes, it was excellent. I’m honestly really proud of the performance but most importantly it gets another point on the board to where we want to go to against a rival team in a way, knowing that we were much the better team.”

McGreal will now go back to the U23s position he took only a couple of days before taking on his temporary role and on a Saturday will now be a supporter from the stands.

“As I keep saying it, I was here to help the chairman, [CEO] Mark [Ashton] and his team to get the right guy in,” he continued.

“They needed someone just to come in and we feel as though we’ve done that, especially in three of the hardest fixtures throughout the season, ex-Premier League clubs.

“Charlton away, didn’t perform after 20 minutes, don’t get me wrong. Then Wigan last week, we felt we should have nicked it at the end, we had good opportunities, but again a solid performance.

“Today, Sunderland, who are flying high, ex-Premier League club, again we should be coming away with the win.

“We’ve just come in, steadied the ship, got the guys playing with an enthusiasm. Wednesday, it’s one you put in the bin, it’s unfortunate with the FA Cup, but now the bread and butter’s here with the league and the guys have got a couple of good draws with top teams in this division and that should give them that little bit of bounce with the new manager coming in to go and win more games of football.”

Is the season still alive? “One hundred per cent. There’s 23 games left, we just need to turn a couple of draws in to wins. I think Sunderland have shown since the last time we played them where they’ve gone in the league.

“I think Charlton have done exactly the same. You get that win-win, them two Ws, those three Ws on the bounce and everything changes and we can easily do that. You’re looking at that there from last week to this week, a lot to build on.”

Regarding the Covid situation with few games on today, McGreal was asked whether the Blues had just been fortunate but he says Town have had stringent rules in place.

“We’ve got a big squad as well, we’ve had a couple of close contacts that have had to isolate and stuff like that, but the precautions that the club have got in place here are second to none,” he said.

“You’ve now got your passports, we’ve been doing that all season, the protocols have been in place.

“We’re lucky in a way but they spread out in the changing rooms, the buses when we go to away fixtures, we have two buses, so the club has put a lot of the protocols in place and at the moment, touch wood, we seem OK.

“But again, I think there’s a statement coming out on Monday from the EFL, so I think we’ll all be looking to hear that.”

Black Cats boss Lee Johnson, back in the county of his birth, said he agreed that a draw was a fair result.

“I think I would. I thought they have the better of the first half, we had the better of the second half,” he said.

“I thought it was a good game in terms of that competitiveness and the aggression on show. We upped our aggression in the second half, we had to. There were too many individual duals lost in the first half that just gave them momentum.

“Those breaks in the game just fell to them. We tried to stem the flow. They didn’t have loads of chances but we didn’t have anywhere near enough quality switches of the paly, quality balls into our forwards.

“We had to change the shape to match them up and I thought the second half we really did go toe-to-toe.

“In the lead up to the goal, there were four or five big tackles that led to us getting the ricochet and switching play to then allow Dan Neil to show his great feet.

“A great through ball to a really good receiving presentation from [Nathan] Broadhead and then a really good finish.

“I’m alright with a point. I want to win football matches but this was a really difficult game for us in terms of the occasion they put on.

“We didn’t quite stand up to it enough in the opening exchanges but second half we came through well and I think our travelling fans will see we have got spirit to come back from a game like that.

“A draw is okay if you go and finish it off in the next game with a win.”

Regarding Town's goal, he added: “It was a really poor goal. They should never, ever get an opportunity from that.

“It was a cross and we get done with a one-two, two centre-halves get in a pickle on different lines and one doesn’t track. One steps in when he should be dropping off. It was a poor goal to concede.

“It was unlike us in our recent form but maybe that’s the little sharpener to remind us that they have to be vigilant at every point.”

Photo: TWTD

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pennblue added 18:57 - Dec 18
Unfortunately that is our season over. Even if we perform the same as Rotherham in the second half of the season we won’t make 6th place.

Only another 2 from the last 9 which is just not good enough.

TimmyH added 19:11 - Dec 18
Great atmosphere and attendance (probably the biggest for the last 10 years?)...although certainly improved from the debacles of Charlton and Barrow not good enough to get us into the play-offs against a not that brilliant Sunderland, to many drawn games at home and a gap appearing now between 9th spot and below and some have games in hand.

chopra777 added 19:14 - Dec 18
Thank you for your efforts at a difficult time. At least we fought against Wigan and Sunderland. Now it is time for KM to take us further up the table.

NthQldITFC added 19:16 - Dec 18
Well done John McGreal for pulling things together in a tricky situation. Glad you're at the club. Good man.

BlueWax added 19:33 - Dec 18
As critical as I was against Barrow and ashamed I must admit that the effort today was phenomenal. First half we totally dominated.
Wwll done lads and superb support blue army. Tonight I'm a happy chappy and proud to be a blue!

BeethorpeAndy added 19:38 - Dec 18
Don't believe we can't make top six. Just need the new manager to get off to a good start, may be let a couple go and get a couple in. Secure Walton in goal, play maker in midfield, a fit Celina and bonny boy scoring again! I was at Portman road when there were 38010 present!! Great days, every player an international barring Cooper! We were a great club and we can be again. COYB!

ArnieM added 19:39 - Dec 18
The fan base is most definitely there , and some. This Club just have to give us downtime to shout about , and it’ll take off !

Town do what they often do , play their opponents off the park in the first half but fail to get the goals and put the game to bed . Second half usual had the opposition reforming and it upping their efforts but we time and time again fail to match it it goes up another fear ourselves. If anything we put in a 15 min spell of “ caught in the headlights “ … it’s a mental approach issue that needs to be addressed . Sort that and we’ll put games to bed.

Drifter3012 added 19:39 - Dec 18
Good match, shame we couldn't win, but hopefully the new manager can see the potential.
Glad JM played a more attacking freer formation, this will suit us better going into the 2nd half of the season especially if Coulson gets fit.
Need 16 wins from the 2nd half of the season, which does seem unlikely, but not impossible.
Still holding on to that glimmer of hope.

Monkey_Blue added 19:41 - Dec 18
How the hell did Johnson think a draw was a fair result? We dominated

ArnieM added 19:56 - Dec 18
I meant to say well done John McGreal. A fantastic Club man and he deserved that game today , his last as caretaker manager . What a fitting way to hand over the reigns , in front of near 30k fans and acbrilliant atmosphere and brilliant 1st half performance by his team .

Let’s take it forward from here …..,

TimmyH added 20:16 - Dec 18
We didn't dominate other than maybe the 1st 20 minutes and then the play kept being broken up with all their players needing treatment, 2nd half was pretty 50/50 and Sunderland had a few opportunities with passes between our back 3 whilst we created the odd opportunity i.e. KVY and the chance Chaplin wasn't decisive with.

Cakeman added 20:44 - Dec 18
Brilliant atmosphere and very enjoyable to be there. Hopefully the players can replicate the first half performance on a regular basis.

churchmans81 added 22:37 - Dec 18
Pennblue. What? It’s not anything like ‘our season over’! It’s not even Christmas and we have half the games to go with a new coach and a squad of players that can get into the playoffs. Season over? Rubbish! I’ll believe it when it’s no longer mathematically possible; not with 4+ months of the season still to play and the games coming thick and fast! As Ted Lasso would say .. and does .. ‘believe’! 🚜⚽️💙

number8 added 05:44 - Dec 19
I do ❤️ a 3-5-2!!

As much as I do feel we may spend another year in league one, it's never over until it's impossible!!

Bring on the second half of the season.

sospier added 07:05 - Dec 19
Hopefully our season is just about to start.Still 23 games to go with a possible 69 points to play for.New man in charge so anything can happen and a January window….Plenty of optimism from me.COYB….

Bazza8564 added 07:38 - Dec 19
really pleased that JM was able to demonstrate his effectiveness and get the lads motivated the way he did.
tactically much better and 352 suits us as a variation to 4231, much better that 442
i stood above the directors box yesterday and took a video of the flags and fireworks, mark, Berkey and Kieran’s faces lit up
i too will only concede the season when we’ve got 3 games left, not 23, however unlikely it probably is. So proud of the club yesterday we are bigger and better than L1 and sooner or later we will be back in the higher leagues again

ChrisFelix added 09:06 - Dec 19
After 60 years of following Town I still find it so frustrating that a team ( like Sunderland ) can be so our played. Yet continue to take points of us.
My late father said it was luck & the rub of the green. For me this has been absent so far this season. I know we scored late winners/ equalisers but if good fortune had been present these wouldn't have been necessary

SmiffyofBury added 10:38 - Dec 19
Well done John. In your short period in charge you got them playing with the same purpose, passion and quality that you always gave to the club. It is great to have you back here. More of those performances and we will finally be heading upwards.

Orraman added 11:20 - Dec 19
John McGreal may be stepping back to his intended role but he can still have an influential voice within the club. His post match interviews have been so well presented, showing his extensive knowledge of the game and love for Ipswich Town. The turnout and performance took him back to our Premier League days and he fully deserved that as a gift from the fans for his efforts for Ipswich both back then and in the past few weeks.
It seems that we have a good crop of youngsters coming through the ranks and with the experience of John, Keiron Dyer and Bryan Klug hopefully we can soon see “some of our own” make their mark as we look to return to former glories

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