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McKenna: Definitely Not Our Best Performance
Saturday, 5th Feb 2022 18:53

Town boss Kieran McKenna admitted the Blues’ 1-0 home victory over Gillingham was far from their best performance, feeling that his side was drawn into a “tit-for-tat game” in the second half which suited the visitors more.

Conor Chaplin’s ninth goal of the season in the 78th minute won the match for the Blues, who remain ninth but climb a point closer to the play-offs, which are now eight points away.

“Definitely wasn’t our best performance, for sure,” McKenna said. “It was tough game. We had the feeling all week it was going to be a tough game.

“I know probably the perception outside the group, with the run we’ve been on and the run they’ve been on, was that we’d be in for a comfortable game, but we never thought it was going to be that.

“I watched their game on Tuesday night [a 1-0 home win against Crewe], I saw the reaction [new manager] Neil [Harris] got from the group straight away. I knew they were going to come here and pack the defence, be good on their direct play and their flick-ons.

“I knew it was going to be a big challenge. I never had the feeling all week that it was going to be a pretty one or a convincing win.

“Obviously we can play and we need to play much better than we did at times today but credit to the players, I thought the work-rate, especially in the second half when we’d lost our way in the game from a technical and tactical point of view, physically we dug in, chased things down, got to the ball, made a big physical effort, and players were cramping and were tired at the end.

“I felt we fought our way to a clean sheet and if we fight our way to a clean sheet, we know we have the quality to score a goal, even not on our best day.”

Did he speak to his players about patience leading up to the match? “We spoke about that mentality from the start of the week. We went to Gillingham four weeks ago and it was a different team. Everything went our way that day, we scored two or three goals early in the game and went on to play some really vintage football.

“We try and do the same every game but it’s not always going to happen. First half we had good control, 70-plus per cent possession, had them pinned back in their half but it was a challenge to create, it’s something we need to keep getting better at.

“But we need to be patient as a club, we need to trust in the process that we’re on, keep developing our style of play.

“In the second half it became more difficult because we went away from that. We got caught in a fight with them, it became a tit-for-tat game that suited them more than us and in the end probably in the second half we were fortunate to get the three points.

“A lot to take from the game. The main thing, with the quick turnaround, that we reflect on is the big physical effort from the players, a big shift, good mentality.

“At the end of the game when we’d got our goal, we saw the game out well, subs came on and contributed and we take the three points and move on.”

Regarding Chaplin’s winner, he added: “We have goals, Conor’s tally is growing for the season, that’s important for us.

“I thought it was a good goal in terms that in the first half we’d got Janoi [Donacien] and we’d got George [Edmundson] out as our side centre-backs, a lot of times we got them high up the pitch on the ball but we didn’t quite manage to find passes into the strikers, we didn’t manage to find passes into the box enough, into the forwards’ feet and they didn’t quite get the service they needed.

“The pleasing thing about the goal was that we managed to get George stepping through the pitch like he’s done so much but he managed to find that penetrating pass, that we need a little bit more from everyone, into the forwards’ feet and if we do that we know we have players in and around the box who can score a goal and again it was a good touch and a good finish from Conor and it was enough to win the game.”

Reflecting on closing the gap to the play-offs to eight points, he continued: “We know it’s a big ask, we need to win a lot of games, there’s very little margin for error.

“Our home form is massive, that gives us three wins on the spin at home, that’s going to be really important for us to the end of the season.

“Big three points, we know we’ve got an awful lot to do, all we can do is fight every game, get ready for Doncaster now, give everything we’ve got for the three points and if we do that then eventually we’ll look and see where we’re at and hopefully we’ll be closer than we are now.”

Joe Pigott was given his first start under McKenna and the Blues boss was pleased with the one-time Gillingham loanee’s display.

“He’s deserved it,” he said. “He’s been training ever so well, has been showing all the qualities why he’s at the football club.

“His performance today, we didn’t get the service up to his feet enough that he needs but when we did he managed to hold it up well and link it well at times.

“He’s been training well, an important member of the squad. We’ve got good options up front. We managed to use three of them today. Obviously we’ve got Kayden [Jackson] as well in the squad and ready to contribute and we’re going to need them all over the course of the games.

“He did a good shift for the team today and Macauley [Bonne] came on after that and helped to see the game out well. We’ve got good options, good competition and they’re all pulling in the same direction.”

Wes Burns came off injured just after half-time but McKenna is hopeful it’s nothing too significant.

“Hopefully not too bad,” he said. “I’ve not had a full rundown but speaking to him at half-time he had received a knock, nothing more than that. He wanted to give it a go at the start of the second half and he wasn’t able to run it off. As he came off he said it was a knock, so fingers crossed that won’t be too long.”

The Northern Irishman said Sone Aluko’s absence from the squad wasn’t down to an injury, just the number of players at his disposal.

“Just choice,” he continued. “As I’ve said, a big squad. We had 22 players training this week, outfield, thankfully no injuries in the squad, everyone fighting for positions.

“Sone’s been an important player for us, will be an important player again, today we had other options on the bench.”

McKenna says it’s important for a side to be able to win matches when not playing at their best.

“That’s important,” he reflected. ‘I think clean sheets are massive for us. I think that’s our fourth in seven games. I’m not sure how many there were before that but if you have that sort of record across your league games, you give yourself a chance.

“We have goals in the squad. Again we have forwards who can score, we have players like Conor and Santi [Bersant Celina] who play a line deeper, who can also score, so that was key.

“We didn’t manage to get the service into them around the edge of the box today as much as we wanted. We managed to do that for the goal, find Conor in the position he likes to be and he produced a quality finish and the team fought hard for a clean sheet.”

McKenna says the team is currently a work in progress: “Definitely. That’s a fair reflection. We’re trying to change a lot in terms of everything at the club, but also for the players, how we train, how we play.

“There’s good bits of our game at the moment. In the first half it was frustrating but there were still some good bits of our game. We had all of the game, all of the ball in their half of the pitch but at times we’re not creating as much as we would want when we’re in that phase of the game. That’s the most difficult thing in football.

“We’re doing some things well to get to that point but we need to keep working on it, it’s not easy, especially when a team like Gillingham come here with very high levels of motivation and put a lot of bodies behind the ball, and run really hard to stop us being able to create and use spaces.

“It’s a challenge, so we need to keep going with that process, we need everyone to be behind it. I think the fans can see that we’re trying to develop a style of play that’s going to be really important to us over the next few years that’s going to help us win a lot of games and climb to where the club wants us to climb.

‘We need to be patient with that, we need to trust and back that process. We need everybody to stick with us, like the fans did today and they supported the lads well at the end.

“That’s the journey we’re on, we need to keep improving, we will keep improving and obviously picking up wins along the way helps with confidence and gives us more opportunity to keep working.”

McKenna was asked about his comments about needing to find more penetrating passes and whether that was down to a need for more bravery from the players.

“A little bit,” he considered. “It’s been an issue all season in terms that we haven’t naturally over the course of the season had a very high volume of shots.

“It’s a mixture of things. We need to have the right balance of patience where we don’t give the ball away cheaply, we don’t end up in a tit-for-tat, ding-dong game that other teams are more suited to. That’s what happened in the second half.

“It’s a mixture of patience, which we had at times in the first half but we didn’t penetrate enough. We didn’t manage to find the balls into the front enough, into the strikers where they could do their damage and where we could join in from.

“We have to get that balance right. It’s not easy for any team in world football when a team comes and puts 10 men on the edge of their box and runs really hard, it’s difficult, it’s not easy to carve them open and create a lot of big chances.

“Teams are giving us a lot of respect at the moment, in terms of dropping off us and trying to deny us space. Even Sheffield Wednesday last week at home, such a big club, they were happy to have 10 men on the edge of their box defending at times and we pinned them back to that.

“Teams are giving us a lot of respect because of the football that they’ve seen that we’re capable of playing in the first few weeks.

“That then brings a new challenge, a challenge that the players aren’t entirely used to in terms of being in a team who are that dominant as we were in the first half.

“But we need to keep going. I’m very confident that that’s the way forward for the football club, to develop our style of play, to become a dominant, proactive team who are ready to take the ball against any opposition and play in their half and dominate and control games.

“But it’s not an easy process, so we need to keep going, we need to stick together, all the club, everyone together behind it, stick with the players and keep working through that, win as many games as we can in the meantime and I know that we’ll improve over time.”

That patience from the players will come with confidence and belief? “Exactly, it comes with confidence, it comes with belief. It comes with familiarity and repetition, and it comes with winning games.

“We won today, that helps, that gives the players that little bit more confidence. We need to find and develop the players’ confidence. It’s an absolutely wonderful place to play football, there’s a big expectant crowd who are coming here.

“Playing against Gillingham, they come here to be entertained, they come here to see us dominate and score lots of goals but that’s not easy.

“It’s not easy when other teams give us a high level of respect and come and pack the edge of their box.

“That’s a mental challenge for the players, it’s a really good challenge. They all want to be at a big club like Ipswich, they want to be at a club that dominates the game, they want to be playing in the blue shirts today with the ball, having the ball, trying to create, that’s the club that we want to be.

“We don’t want to be the club that is sitting back and letting other people come and dictate terms to us.

“That’s the challenge, it’s something the players are embracing at the training ground. They want to go in that direction, we just need to keep working and, as I say, we need to keep picking up points.

“The more games that we win, it gives the players more confidence, more belief and it gives the club a boost and gives us more chances to work.”

Gills manager Harris felt his side did enough to take all three points.

“I like to win, I am a winner, I have been a winner as a player and a manager, I want to win games of football.” he told the Kent Messenger.

“I walk out disappointed we didn’t get something from the game, which we deserved, however I am really proud of my players, that was excellent.

“We talk about improvement and momentum and I said to the boys after, ‘that is momentum again’, the fact they came off the pitch with a standing ovation from the away support.

“They got booed off the other day [against Town] when it was 4-0, and let’s be honest it could have been 15, at home.

“To come off with that performance and walk into the changing room disappointed, they are not just disappointed they haven’t got one point but three, and that’s how good they were and we have to build on that.

“The performance was very good and I thought we were better for 90 minutes. We were very good for 45 minutes on Tuesday [as thy beat Crewe 1-0]. This time around anyone in the ground would have seen how organised we were and how structured we were.

“I am immensely proud of them, the fans that travelled made some fantastic noise in support of the team but they also had a performance to support as well, which key.

“We started the game on the front foot, we were in the ascendancy for five minutes, but good football sides find a way to play and they were fantastic with the ball for 25 minutes but they only created two chances and they came from set-plays, from second phases, and I am disappointed with my players not to win first contacts and second balls, but the goalkeeper has not made a save.”

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cressi added 19:02 - Feb 5
Aluko can't make the 18
Dear oh Dear McKenna

Ipswichbusiness added 19:10 - Feb 5
If other teams defend deep and en masse then it’s our job to open them up; I expect more from 63% possession than 2 shots on target.

buzbyblue added 19:10 - Feb 5
I think McK got away with one today, Aluko should have been starting - Piggott & Norwood were awful......

I really hope McK isn't gonna start some stupid rotations every week - I don't care if we have 22 players, you don't breed confidence by keep on changing things just for the sake of it

Timefliesbyintheblue added 19:12 - Feb 5
It is so important that we learn to respect McKenna in every way - he will be a successful manager, I so hope it is with ITFC. I as usual was at the game and all respect to Gillingham who were always going to be better than the home game under their new manager.
Read what our boss has to say above and remember he is trying to change the complete culture within our club. His record is over 2 points per game and that in itself deserves respect.
Was the game today at times frustrating, yes, was it our best display, no; but listen to what he says, and understand that this is the best manager we have had for a long while - I honestly believe that.

IpswichToon added 19:22 - Feb 5
I think it’s harsh to say Piggott was awful today. I felt he done well with what little he had to work with. I’m really not sure if Norwood even had more than a couple of touches in the first half. Chaplin was doing his best to give away the ball at every opportunity.

For me, only Carroll and Thompson looked like they even wanted to be there today. Yet the likes of Celina can’t get on the pitch? Not only a really disappointing performance, but the sheer number of ridiculous individual errors just continued to astound me. I’m sure Gills fans will leave that stadium similar to how I came away from Sunderland, in utter disbelief they got nothing from that game.

Hopefully Morsy is that missing link once he returns.

Lathers added 19:23 - Feb 5
The front two played like stranger today and we moved the ball around too slowly and sideways and backwards, when forward passes were available. Pass completion rate must have been low. It was painful to watch today but at least we got the 3 points. McKenna is definitely improving us no doubt but I question his squad rotation when we are playing ‘must win games’ every week.

Ipswichbusiness added 19:26 - Feb 5
Timefliesbyintheblue; I would just add to what you said that remember that KM has only been here for six weeks! Yes, he has had a transfer window, but it happened shortly after he arrived so he would still have been evaluating players. He needs a summer transfer window and a pre-season.

billlm added 19:34 - Feb 5
He's right same old blah blah, very poor no matter what manager,

Monkey_Blue added 19:38 - Feb 5
Aluko missing was a surprise but we won and he’ll be fresh for the trip up north. If we’d lost maybe worth pushing the point but that starting 11&bench would probably still be one of if not the most expensively assembled in the league and you’d be confident it would beat Gillingham at home.

Suffolkboy added 19:41 - Feb 5
Calm, thorough , meticulous in summation ; emanates a quiet confidence with no hint of arrogance .
Leaves a good and confident impression of making haste slowly but surely recognising progress is never a smooth upward graph .but analyses and interprets with clarity .
We’ve a real good man here ,who will do his very best to do us ,and the whole club ,proud !
Let’s really believe !

SickParrot added 19:43 - Feb 5
As we struggle to find a penetrating pass it might be a good idea to pick Aluko or Celina?

JCBLUE added 20:13 - Feb 5
Poor game, but 3 points & KMcK averaging 2.14 points per game, which is auto promotion form. If we can continue that, we may sneak the playoffs.

Pettabelieveit added 20:13 - Feb 5
SickParrot if you follow the context and understand a bit about the game, he wanted those passes to come from the outside centre halves as the stepped out from the back, instead of passing into a packed midfield or playing direct. The manager is implementing a style and as he said, it’s a process!

TimmyH added 20:26 - Feb 5
Blimey! So it wasn't a bereavement why Aluko was left out the 18...I won't criticise McKenna as he's been here not long (but I'm going to :) but that was doesn't seem right! He is undoubtedly worthier to be in that 18 than Jackson. Did we need another 2 strikers on the bench?

I hope he starts him on Tuesday the way the midfield are performing at the moment.

SickParrot added 20:27 - Feb 5
Pettabelieveit - I do get the context and I also understand the game so I'm sure that McKenna doesn't want to be dependent on his centre halves to provide the penetrating pass. I'm just suggesting that we have more chance of of producing that pass with Aluko or Celina on the field.

Karlosfandangal added 21:00 - Feb 5
Chaplin has to play week in week out he scores goals, poor old Pigott looks lost, for me Norwood and Bonne the front 2.

Mosey will make a difference when back but not sure with in the middle.
Celina or Aluko must play again not sur how in this system or go to one up front with those 2 playing just behind.

Just my opinion

DavoIPB added 21:05 - Feb 5
The joke is our best team were not playing. Aluko, Celina and Bonne all needed to be on the pitch. Edwards came on and showed some of what we have been missing. Not convinced yet by KM. Needs to start picking the right players. Think a lot of fans are begining to see a rotation policy that doesn't work.

cat added 21:32 - Feb 5
Second worse match I’ve witnessed this season and the Charlton game will take some beating. The 3 points will paper over the cracks but there’s something seriously missing with this squad. Okay so Gillingham came with spoiler tactics but they were woeful, but that’s what you expect from a struggling side.
Todays performance was worthy of a mediocre mid table team!

Reuserscurtains added 21:54 - Feb 5
This man is clearly just a puppet for slippery Ashton.
If he was picking players on football ability and not potential sell on/business reasons, Aluko is at least in the squad today.
I have a very bad feeling about all this. Hope im wrong

Edmundo added 21:58 - Feb 5
Cat, Gilligham were a shadow of a side a few weeks ago, and we tonked them. They had a lot of motivation to show a new manager they could do better, and credit to them, they did. We can't win every game at a canter. We are 3 years in L1 for a reason.

herfie added 22:07 - Feb 5
Pleased with the win, and the points. However, there’s no disguising that the overall performance was poor - certainly collectively, and most individuals. There still seems to be a fundamental, and long standing, fault line running through the squad - 8n terms of desire, intensity, confidence and raw will to win and out fight the opposition. Playing neat, technical - but ultimately unproductive football - is never going to get us out of this division.

KMck, who is clearly an intelligent, ‘modern day’ coach/manager, must not be forced in reverting to the typical Lambert/Cook mind set, because of players’ accepting mediocrity as ‘standard for Ipswich’. Result notwithstanding, today’s performance was unacceptable: no if’s, no buts. KMcK needs to lay down the law in straight and robust terms - as well as looking at his own performance in terms of team selection, set up and tactical nous - and refusing to accept milky individual performances. Blue tinted glasses off, everyone. We need to be harder and meaner.

Linkboy13 added 22:15 - Feb 5
I get the feeling McKenna's looking forward to next season with some of his team selections. That's the only reason i can think why our most creative player was on the bench in Celina. Celina apparently is not for sale according to his club. Aluko apparently was not in the squad due to a family problem.

bkb added 22:24 - Feb 5
Oh do come on you lot . Five wins in seven . When is the last time that happened.

peaky69 added 23:45 - Feb 5
What's done is done, take the points, learn from the game and move on.
I would 100% be putting Simpson in the squad over Piggott and Norwood on Tuesday on that performance. Touch and passing were not up to standard from either.

OsborneOneNil added 02:06 - Feb 6
5 wins in 7. ‘Everyone needs to be patient and be part of the process’.

Chin up.

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