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McKenna Out to Make it Three Wins in Three as Town Travel to Bolton
Friday, 14th Jan 2022 11:33

Town boss Kieran McKenna will be looking to become the first Blues manager to win his first three matches in charge since 1936 when his side take on Bolton Wanderers at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Mick O’Brien won his first six matches, four in the Southern League and two in the FA Cup, at the start of the 1936/37 season, Town’s in augural campaign as a professional club, but no manager since has recorded three wins from their first three. The Blues ended that season carrying off the Southern League title.

McKenna’s hugely impressive start to his time at Portman Road has seen the Blues defeat Wycombe Wanderers 1-0 at home and then Gillingham 4-0 at the Priestfield Stadium last week.

The Blues boss says he’ll be looking for his team to maintain the good habits from the impressive victory over the Gills against the Trotters, who are 18th, eight places and nine points behind Town.

“Absolutely. That’s been the whole week that we’ve had in training,” he said. “That’s been the message from half-time at Gillingham really, when we knew the game was in a pretty comfortable position in terms of the result.

“Now it’s about habits, it’s about mentality, it’s about preparing for Bolton and it’s about not getting ahead of ourselves.

“We’ve won two games, but we haven’t won enough games all season, we’re not where we want to be. It’s a long, long way off being time to give ourselves a pat on the back and it’s been time to knuckle down.

“We’ve probably worked even harder in training than we did in the weeks before. In the early part of the week, we pushed really hard. Obviously we’ve had a bit of a comedown now towards the end of the week and are getting ready for Bolton from a tactical point of view.

“I think the players have taken that message on board and I think at the moment they are a pretty grounded group.

“It’s about blocking out any noise on the outside and making sure that we know that it’s on us now.

“We’ve got big jobs to do and it’s going to be a really tough game, nothing is taken for granted and we have to be at our absolute best to even have a chance of getting a result.”

The Northern Irishman, whose side could be five points from the play-offs by Saturday evening if they win and other results go in their favour, says he’s not spoken too much about the Blues’ 5-2 defeat to Bolton at Portman Road in September.

“Not loads with the staff, to be honest,” he said. “It’s not something that I’ve planned to delve into a lot with the players. Obviously I’ve watched the game back and I understand some of the issues and difficulties there were in the game.

“But it’s not one we’ve used as a big motivational tool or a big tactical tool. I want us to focus on the here and now. We feel like we’re in a good place as a group.

“We’re in a different place, we feel. Bolton are probably in a different place in their season. It’ll be different personnel who will play in the game for both teams, quite considerably, so it’s not something that we’re going to focus a lot of our preparation on in terms of speaking to the squad.

“I’m sure individually a few of the players who did play in the game will maybe feel they want to prove a point against a direct opponent or if they had a tough day that day they might want to make sure they have a better day on Saturday.

“But it’s not something that we’ve spoken about as a group and not something that I plan to speak about too much as a group.”

While that was a difficult day for the Blues defensively with keeper Christian Walton and centre-half George Edmundson both making their debuts, Town’s backline have kept clean sheets in each of McKenna’s two games in charge.

“It’s been a really good foundation to our last two performances, how we’ve been without the ball,” he continued.

“Obviously not just the goalkeeper and the defensive unit, but starting from the front, the way we’ve put pressure on the other teams and made it difficult for them to have any time on the ball to get their head up, to be able to play passes where they want to play them.

“So that’s given us a good chance as a team, it’s given us a chance to squeeze the line and keep the ball away from our goal a little bit more, especially in the game last weekend. That’s been good. I think the players have bought into that really well.

“This week’s a different challenge, Bolton are a different style of team to Gillingham and to Wycombe even. We they’ll give us more problems or a different type of problems, they’ll typically build up from the back quite well, they’ll look to play through the pitch.

“They have pace up front but they also have good midfielders, who can get on the ball and look to dictate possession.

“They like to take the ball themselves and they have some good movement and some good patterns.

“It’s going to be a different challenge in terms of the style that we’re coming up against and we need to make sure that we do our fundamentals well, we defend well as a team and if we do that, it gives us a good chance to win the game.”

McKenna watched the Trotters in action on Tuesday in their 2-0 home defeat to Wycombe, their fifth successive loss in all competitions and fourth in a row in the league.

“I thought they played well, to be honest,” he reflected. “I don’t think they’ve been a million miles away in all the games that I‘ve seen.

“The Wycombe game during the week, they had more possession, they had more crosses, they had more shots, they had more corners, I thought they had the better chances or at least the equal chances in the game against a really strong Wycombe team, who we know how difficult it can be [to play].

“They’ve made some good signings already in January, they’ve a strong squad so I think they’re in a spell where they haven’t had good results and I’m sure they’ll want to improve that and [manager] Ian [Evatt] will be working hard with the group.

“But, honestly speaking in terms of performances, from what I’ve seen, I don’t think they’re a million miles away.

“I think Wycombe made the difference in the penalty box the other night, they scored two good goals. The first was a really good individual goal and probably they had the edge in terms of taking their chances in front of goal.

“But apart from that, I thought there were plenty of good things about Bolton’s performance and it’s clear for us to see where the challenges are going to be. It’s going to be a big challenge.

“I think the form guide shows that we’ve won the last couple and they haven’t won but I don’t think that necessarily has a massive bearing going into the game.

“It’s up to us to impose ourselves on the game. I think if we can start well, if we can get the first goal and play in a really aggressive and dominant manner, then that possibly is when form can come into it and we’ll have maybe a little bit more confidence.

“But starting the game, we know it’s a big challenge, it’s not a team that I see playing poorly and we know they’ll come out of the traps, they’ll be desperate to get a good result and we need to be ready.”

Saturday’s game will be McKenna’s first experience of a long away trip with the Blues following last week’s relatively short hop to Kent.

“The long drives are obviously a pleasure from working out of Ipswich and something that we’ve not been so used to, but obviously, it’s part and parcel of it,” he added.

“The players are well used to it, we have a good sports science team, we have a good nutrition team and we have a very good chef who travels with us.

“We do everything right and we make sure that we make the very best of the journey. It is a challenge, of course, but we’ll be as well prepared as we possibly can be, make the best of the circumstances, and I’m sure we’ll be fresh enough on Saturday to give a performance.”

McKenna, who reported no new injury or illness issues, could well stick with same XI from the Gillingham game given the performance and the result.

Walton, who could be playing his last game for the club with parent club Brighton having taken up the option to recall him with seven days’ notice earlier in the week with discussions regarding a permanent switch ongoing, will continue in goal.

The back three is again set to be, from the right, Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden and Edmundson with the wing-backs Wes Burns and Matt Penney.

In central midfield, skipper Samy Morsy is again likely to be partnered by Lee Evans with Sone Aluko behind front pair James Norwood, who has scored four in his last four in the league, and top scorer Macauley Bonne, who took his tally to 12 at Gillingham as he ended a 10-match goal drought.

Bersant Celina could return to the bench having been back in training having suffered with a hamstring injury and illness towards the end of 2021.

Bolton manager Evatt also reported no new injury or Covid problems at his pre-match press conference.

Asked what he was expecting from the Blues, he said: “They’ve had some very good results of late and Kieran is a very experienced coach and has worked at the highest level with the best players. We’ll give them a huge amount of respect.

“They spent an awful lot of money in the summer and recruited some very good players and it’s now down to Kieran to get the best out of those players which looks like he’s starting to do so it’s going to be a really difficult game but one that we’re looking forward to.”

Evatt played for ex-Blues manager Paul Cook at Chesterfield and was asked about his former boss’s Town departure.

“I’m not really here to comment on manager sackings, but I know Paul well, I know what he’s capable of, I played in one of his teams and was captain for one of his successful teams,” he continued.

“He recruited heavily in the summer and as we saw last summer, it’s never that easy just to throw so many bodies together at once and get immediate results.

“I was given time and it proved the right decision [as Bolton won promotion from League Two]. He hasn’t been given time and only time will tell whether it was the right or wrong decision, but for me managers should always be given time.

“Football regardless of what type of event it is, it’s a sporting event, yes, but it’s also a business, and how many businesses are judged on their day’s sale?

“For everything that I see it’s judged on yearly sales and estimations of where they want to be. Football is no different. A full season is something that you definitely need and require in football to implement your ideas and style and I believe that managers should be given longer.”

Evatt signed keeper James Trafford on loan from Manchester City yesterday and he is weighing-up whether to give the 19-year-old his debut or stick with Joel Dixon.

Trafford is Wanderers’ fourth signing of the January window following striker Dion Charles, who joined from Accrington, midfielder Aaron Morley from Rochdale and right-back Marlon Fossey, a loan addition from Fulham. Striker Eoin Doyle has departed for League of Ireland side St Patrick’s Athletic.

The Trotters will be without forward Elias Kachunga, who is sidelined for two or three months with a torn thigh, while winger Lloyd Isgrove isn’t expected back from a hamstring injury until March.

On-loan Hamburg winger Xavier Amaechi is also set to miss out against the Blues due to a hamstring problem and midfielder Josh Sheehan is out for the season with an ACL injury.

Historically, the Blues have the edge, having won 21 times (19 in the league), Bolton 13 (nine) and with 12 (11) games between the teams ending in draws.

Town’s last defeat at the University of Bolton Stadium came back in April 2002, a 4-1 loss which all but confirmed Town’s relegation from the Premier League.

Bolton’s last win in the league came on November 23rd, a 3-0 home victory over bottom club Doncaster. Overall, their league record on their own turf this season reads won four, drawn four and lost three.

In September at Portman Road, Town’s disappointing start to the season hit a new low as Wanderers came from behind to defeat the then-winless Blues 5-2, Town’s first loss to the Trotters anywhere in the league since that 2002 defeat.

Bonne put the Blues ahead on five but Dapo Afolayan levelled for the Trotters in the 10th minute, then eight minutes later won the penalty which Doyle converted to put the visitors in front.

A Ricardo Santos own goal put Town on terms on the half hour but just before the break Afolayan added his second in first-half injury time to make it 3-2.

After the break, Sheehan and George Johnston made the most of calamitous Blues defending on 47 and 57 to complete Town’s misery.

The teams last met at the University of Bolton Stadium in August 2019 with the Trotters in a period of crisis but with their takeover by current ownership Football Ventures only days away.

Town hit the top of League One after thrashing their very young side 5-0 with Norwood and Kayden Jackson netting twice each and Gwion Edwards once.

Norwood’s 19th-minute penalty gave the Blues a half-time lead in a game they dominated from start to finish with Edwards adding the second on 50, Jackson scoring in the 60th and 64th minutes before the Town number 10 completed the scoring on 72.

Saturday’s referee is former Premier League official Bobby Madley, who has shown 67 yellow cards and three red in 21 games so far this season.

West Yorkshire-based Madley left his top flight role in August 2018 after making and texting a video which made fun of a disabled person which was then made known to his employers.

He returned to refereeing in this country in 2020 following a spell officiating in the lower leagues in Norway.

Coincidentally, Madley’s most recent Town game was the 5-2 loss to Bolton in September in which he booked Kane Vincent-Young, against whom he also correctly awarded the Trotters’ penalty, and two of the visitors.

Prior to that he took control of the 2-1 win at Accrington Stanley in March last year, the day Paul Cook took charge as Blues boss with the new manager watching from the stands.

Madley booked James Wilson and three home players as well as showing Seamus Conneely a later-rescinded straight red card in the 16th minute for a foul on Troy Parrott in the penalty area. The resultant spot-kick taken by Norwood was saved.

He also took control of the 0-0 draw at Oxford United in December 2020 in which he booked Andre Dozzell.

Before that he refereed the 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday in April 2016 in which he yellow-carded Luke Chambers, Kevin Bru, Brett Pitman and one Owl.

Madley was also in charge of the 1-1 draw at AFC Bournemouth in April 2015 in which he again booked Chambers and one home player.

His only other Blues match was the 1-0 home victory over Blackpool in February 2013 in which he cautioned only Guirane N’Daw.

Squad from: Walton, Hladky, Holy, Donacien, Edmundson, Woolfenden, Burgess, Burns, Vincent-Young, Penney, Clements, Morsy, Evans, El Mizouni, Carroll, Harper, Fraser, Edwards, Celina, Aluko, Chaplin, Bonne, Pigott, Norwood, Jackson.

Photo: Matchday Images

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ringwoodblue added 12:08 - Jan 14
It would be great to keep the winning run going as long as possible and put that horrible defeat by Bolton earlier in the season firmly behind us.

Four of the teams above us play each other tomorrow so a win would help close the gap on some of them.


chorltonskylineblue added 12:24 - Jan 14
Reasons to be optimistic. Last season, after 25 games, Blackpool had 38 points, were 11th in the table and went on to win the play offs. This season, having played 25 games, we have 35 points (just 3 less) and are 10th. The main difference is that Blackpool were 2 points outside the play-offs at that stage, whereas we're 8 points short.

In the last 3 completed seasons (i.e. excluding Covid hit 2019-20) the 6th placed team got between 71 and 74 points, so we still have a mountain to climb with a target of 1.71 to 1.85 points per game in our remaining matches. But it is achievable. Wins will be better than draws, especially against our play-off rivals.

BobbyBell added 12:43 - Jan 14
Not only do we want a win but we must also hope that others above and around us drop points. We have played more games than most so we need to gain ground.

BossMan added 12:48 - Jan 14
I hope we get to see at least one change in the starting 11 as this is a big squad and more players arriving this month so be good to see some squad rotation

timkatieadamitfc added 13:34 - Jan 14
@BossMan - why would you want to change a team that’s winning games, look how well that worked for Cooke and especially Lambert, don’t change it if it ain’t broke I say. If we were to be 3-0 up at half time again THEN I would be looking to give more game time to players- piggott is the one for me as he hasn’t been given any where near a fair crack here yet with just fleeting appearances here and there, my concern is if Norwood/Bonne get injured he’s coming in with very little game time, I’ve seen posts saying he’s done nothing in the games that he has been involved in, unfair for me as he can obviously do it in this league with goal tally last season.
COYB same result as last week will sort all our weekend right out

ChateauWines added 13:42 - Jan 14
Unchanged if can. Never change winning side playing well

BossMan added 14:37 - Jan 14
@tim yep totally get that but how do you reward the players who are doing really well in training if you don't shuffle the pack a little bit. Are we saying that's our first 11 ? Are we saying it's now always 532 ? Are we saying it's those players regardless of formation. I'll go with whatever McKenna says because he takes training and if that is 532 again with same players then fair enough. I'll be there cheering the boys regardless

OwainG1992 added 15:01 - Jan 14
Some memories to get rid of after Bolton at home earlier this season.
A shambles on the pitch and the racist behaviour off it made it an embarrassment to support Town.
Big match coming!

Help added 15:27 - Jan 14
Fingers crossed and more hopeful of a positive result than I would have been under the previous manager

Linkboy13 added 15:38 - Jan 14
Yes unchanged team for me unless any one is carrying a knock. Keep hearing people saying give this player a run of games or that player. Doesn't work like that at professional level it's all about picking the best team to get results . Ive said all along Bonne wouldn't be left out just because he's not scoring goals and as McKenna said he offers so much more to the team than goals. If Pigott wants to get in the team he's got to work much harder and show that at least he looks interested. Norwood like him or loathe him has jumped over him in the queue because he's obviously impressed in training and on the pitch. Players are not going to get picked on reputation and what they've done in the past at the detriment of the team's performance. I think you'll agree McKenna has done an excellent job so far so why are people still winging because he's not picking their favourites.

bugledog123 added 17:31 - Jan 14

LegendofthePhoenix added 18:15 - Jan 14
so they don't just do a stop off for KFC on the way up then?

Ipswichbusiness added 18:49 - Jan 14
I reckon that Bolton are a better team than their league position suggests.

It will be a difficult game.

runningout added 19:07 - Jan 14
just read somewhere Bonne looks like staying on loan until end of season

IpswichToon added 21:43 - Jan 14
The only time we've seen possible decades-long records be broken recently is for negative, poor result-related reasons. It's nice to finally see a potential record be broken for something positive!

BossMan added 07:27 - Jan 15
@lunkboy who is whinging ? I can't see one single negative post. Who is demanding Pigott is in the team ? You're the only one who has mentioned him.

Linkboy13 added 12:50 - Jan 15
Possman you obviously haven't been reading this site over the last week .

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