|Gillingham 0 v 4 Ipswich Town|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 8th January 2022 Kick-off 15:00
McKenna: A Really Pleasing Performance
Saturday, 8th Jan 2022 18:32
Manager Kieran McKenna was delighted with what he felt was a really pleasing performance as Town thrashed Gillingham 4-0 in his first away game in charge.
The Blues dominated from start to finish with James Norwood, Wes Burns, Macauley Bonne and Conor Chaplin (penalty) on target.
“A really pleasing performance,” McKenna said. “First of all, I thought our intensity, our aggression, our organisation off the ball was really, really good. That leads to a clean sheet, which is a big positive, two clean sheets back to back.
“The quality of our football right through the game was a really high level. Obviously we scored three fantastic goals. We said we wanted to control the game for longer than we did in the Wycombe game and we certainly managed to do that.
“So, some positives to reflect on, some areas to improve. We spoke about things that we can do better and need to do better, and that will be the focus over the next week now.”
Town got on the front foot right from the start: “We did. I think the mentality in the group is really good at the moment, the boys are hungry, they want the games to come.
“We’ve enjoyed the time on the training pitch but they’re itching to get out there at the moment and play.
“We wanted an intense start, we wanted to impose ourselves on the game, we managed to do that and it led to some early goals, which gave us a good platform in the game and a chance to be a little more confident and comfortable on the ball and made it an enjoyable game.”
Have you been surprised and impressed by how well hey’ve taken to what you’re asking of them?
“Maybe a little bit,” he said after reflecting on the question. “I knew there was a talented group here, I knew there were some good players, but I think they’ve pleasantly surprised me in terms of their attitude to learn, their willingness to learn.
“Not just the young players in the squad but the most senior players in the squad have shown a real humility, a real willingness to listen and learn and want to improve their games and still develop.
“That’s been really pleasing and I think they’re in a good way. We’ve got some momentum behind us now and the most important thing is that we keep improving, keep working on the training pitch. It doesn’t always come off as well as it did today but when it does, we have to enjoy it.”
While three of the goals came in the opening 45 minutes, McKenna was just as happy with the display after the break.
“The second half was really pleasing,” he continued. “I wasn’t happy with the end of the first half. We made that clear to the players at half-time and they weren’t happy either, to be honest.
“I thought after a fantastic 30 minutes we got a bit sloppy, we invited pressure, conceded some free-kicks, gave away too many easy balls which ended up with some pressure around our goal.
“That was the message at half-time, that we had to treat the game as if it was 0-0, that we want to win the second half, we want to be relentless with our details and our mentality and keep them away from our goal.
“And we managed to do that for nearly the whole second half. In the second half, the mentality and attitude was really good, we could have been a little bit more clinical, there could have been better decision-making in and around the box at times and we could have had some more goals
“But I was pleased with how they went about their business in the second half, pleased that they identified it themselves at half-time and they weren’t happy to allow the game to peter out or to become a sloppy performance.” McKenna knows the result has set the bar for future matches, including next Saturday’s trip to Bolton Wanderers.
“Every game’s different,” the Northern Irishman added. “This gives us three points, gives us some more confidence, gives us a good working week to try and improve, but next week is a completely different game.
“Tactically it will be very different. Gillingham were quite man to man again today, so it opens up some spaces that you don’t normally get and we exploited that really well but we know Bolton will be a completely different type of challenge.
“A really good footballing team, tactically a good team, so it will be a different challenge a different game. What we’ve done here today gives us confidence but it doesn’t give us any right to think that next week’s going to be any easier.”
There were so many good performances from the Town team that it was impossible to pick a man of the match.
“I wouldn’t like to pick an individual today,” McKenna said. “I think you could go through the whole team, it was very much a team performance.
“What we’re emphasising to the squad is that it’s very much a squad performance. At the moment we’ve got such a big squad, we had some fantastic players who didn’t make the bench today who are back training at the training ground, who are working hard trying to fight their way into the squad.
“We’ve been emphasising that the only way that we can make this a successful second half of the season is if the whole squad buys in and does it together.
“The XI that go out there on a matchday are representing the whole squad and the work that goes on on the training pitch.
“And today they represented it very well, but it’s not about an individual, it’s not even about the XI, it’s about the 20-plus players we have in training every day, who are giving everything they’ve got and if we keep doing that it gives us a chance to improve.”
Bonne ended his 10-game goalless streak with Town’s third but McKenna believes strikers are about more than just scoring.
“For me, I never judge my forwards with just goals,” he said. “I think in the game today, in the game against Wycombe, even in the game against Sunderland, his work-rate has been fantastic, his hold-up play has been really good. He’s given the team an outlet, he’s working for the team.
“If he hadn’t have scored today I would have been delighted with his performance. Obviously it’s nice for strikers and they judge themselves and get judged externally on their goals, so it’s nice for him to get the goal, but we know that with our forward players, they’ve all got a goal in them.
“We were able to bring on two fantastic strikers at the end in Kayden Jackson and Joe Pigott, and Conor Chaplin, who is a bit of a striker as well, a striker/number 10.
“We know that they’re all capable of scoring goals. Whoever plays is capable of scoring, for me it’s more about how they work for the team on and off the ball, what they give to the team is the most important bit and the goals will come from that.”
Town are still to concede since McKenna took charge, which is something else which delights him.
“Really pleasing, that was a big target from before the Wycombe game,” he said. “There haven’t been too many clean sheets this year so it’s going to be impossible to get momentum and a run of results without being solid defensively and getting some clean sheets.
“So that’s been really pleasing. We’ve not given away many big chances in the two games, so they’ve been two good clean sheets, the pressure from the front has been fantastic and that’s allowed us to squeeze the lines a little bit higher, to play more of the game in the other team’s half and keep it away from our goal.
“The two clean sheets have been earned as a group and if we can keep sacrificing doing those things off the ball, it gives us a good chance to show what we can do on the ball.”
Asked about the mood around the club and whether it’s changed since he took charge, he said: “I know there’s been a fantastic support all season in terms of the fans, but regarding the atmosphere within the club I can only speak for the last three weeks and it’s been really good.
“From when I walked in, I felt the players were hungry to improve. I’ve seen a group of players who were wide-eyed, they wanted to improve, they still wanted to get something out of this season.
“They’re still together as a group, there are no factions. They’ve responded very well to the work, what we’ve put in place, they’ve responded well to the things around the training ground that we’ve wanted, I can only say inside the training ground that the atmosphere has been really good. The support around the players has been really good.
“I think the fans, from what I’ve heard, have been fantastic all season and it’s up to the players and it’s up the staff now to put on results and get performances that that fanbase deserve.
“And we know if we manage to do that there’s a great backing here and the spirit and togetherness of the club will improve and we can get some momentum and hopefully go in the right direction.”
Does he have a target? Is he aiming for the play-offs? What would satisfy him come the end of the season?
“To be honest, I haven’t looked that far and we honestly haven’t spoken to the players about it,” McKenna insisted. “I haven’t spoken to them about points totals or play-offs or positions in the league.
“Hopefully we’ll give fans something to believe in, you want fans to believe and you want them to be excited about the team and the direction but we can’t look at that as a group.
“We’re a long way off in terms of where we need to be in terms of points and wins on the board. We’ve only had a couple of good results, so I think it’s much, much too early to get ahead of ourselves and start thinking about where we might finish in the league.
“The big focus from the start has just been to the players that we have to improve performances in training, we have to improve performances in games. If we do that we’ll get some wins and if we get some wins we’ll see where we’re at in a couple of months’ time.”
Gillingham assistant boss Paul Raynor admitted his side were well off the pace in the first half.
“For 45 minutes we weren’t at the races and didn’t track runners. When you do that against good teams with good players, they punish you,” he told the Gills official website.
“Their manager has gone in there and got a real reaction from them. They played with intensity and quality and moved the ball very quickly. When teams do that, you have to be disciplined.
“You can’t get done by one-twos down the side and then get overloads in the wide areas and don’t track runners in the middle of the goal. That’s just basic football.
“There are no excuses. It was ill-discipline and people not doing their jobs. We weren’t defensively sound and you don’t need to give teams like Ipswich a helping hand.”
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