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McKenna: We’ll Respect Them But the Main Focus Will Be How We’re Going to Impose Ourselves
Thursday, 17th Mar 2022 17:39

Town visit fourth-placed Oxford United on Saturday with their play-off push in the last-chance saloon.

The Blues, who have eight matches left to play, same as the U's, remain ninth, six points behind Sunderland in sixth following last week’s 0-0 home draw with Portsmouth and midweek fixtures elsewhere.

Town’s margin for error is now very minimal with Saturday’s game one it appears the Blues have to win if they’re to have a realistic chance of finishing in the top six.

Manager Kieran McKenna says he and his staff aren’t going to treat Saturday’s match any differently having gone into all their matches targeting three points.

“I think we’ll look at it as we have every game. Certainly we’ve not gone into any game looking for anything other than a win,” he said.

“And during any game we’ve certainly not settled for a draw at any point. I think we’ve always tried to be proactive in terms of chasing the game in the second half if we’re not ahead.

“We’ve tried to be proactive with substitutions, tried to be proactive with how we play and that was certainly the case last week against Portsmouth.

“I definitely don’t think the players could look back in that game with any regrets in terms of effort or in terms of intent to go and get a winning goal and if an offside hadn’t gone against us, as would have been correct, we would have had the winning goal.

“Our approach will be the same as it always is, we’ve tried to win every game, we’ve won plenty, sometimes you fall a little bit short but our intent will be that we’ll go there and try and win, we’ll do everything we can to get that win.

“If the game’s not going our way, we’ll look to be positive and make the changes that we feel that give us the advantage to go and win the game and, as you say, we’ll continue to make sure we that we try and leave everything on the pitch and have no regrets, and if we do that then I don’t think I can ask any more of the players.”

Town have won nine of McKenna’s 15 games in charge and are unbeaten in their last nine, but latterly have been frustrated by four draws - three of them 0-0 - with their only two defeats since the new boss took over 1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday and 2-0 at Bolton.

“I think there are very fine margins at times,” McKenna reflected. “The Wycombe game [which Town won 1-0 at Portman Road], for example, I think we’ve played significantly better in the majority of games [that we haven’t won] than we did in the Wycombe game.

“But we managed to get the first goal and I think for us as a team that can be very important.

“Whenever we get the first goal, we feel that gives us a really good chance with teams then forced to open up a little bit and come out and attack against us, and it gives us the opportunity to be able to create more, not always trying to attack against a low block.

“I think the first goal is very important in those games, even in the Portsmouth game last week we could have had the first goal within the first three or four minutes and then probably the complexion of the game is different.

“I think that’s going to be really key for us. An aggressive start, trying to be a little bit more clinical and a little bit more ruthless when we do get our opportunities.

“And if we can do that and if we can get off to a good start, then it gives us a really good chance when the game opens up.”

McKenna says Town’s principles will remain the same as they look for the three points at the Kassam Stadium.

“That’s really fundamental to us with the stage that we’re at, we’re trying to develop a team and develop a style of play and develop our way going forward and it’s important that we’re brave enough to go and try and impose that even when we play against another good team or we play away from home,” he said.

“That’s certainly what we’ve done in all the games so far and we’ll look to do the same on Saturday, again with respect to Oxford and the strengths that we know they have.

“We want to be a very big team and we want to represent the club in the right way and represent the proud traditions of this club and part of that for me is being a brave and proactive team who play open and exciting football.

“We want to do that on Saturday, but obviously the opposition will have a strategy as well. It’s not always easy to create and score as many goals as we would like if the opposition are playing in a very cautious manner, but I think Oxford will be a team who will look to impose themselves and we’ll look to do the same and it should make for a good game.”

McKenna says he’s watched a lot of the U’s while looking at the Blues’ earlier opponents given their similarities with his own side.

“I can’t speak too much about the previous seasons, but I’ve seen a lot of them this year from when I took the job here,” he continued.

“They’re a team we’ve watched quite a lot of because they’re a good team to assess our next opponents on because they’re a very good footballing team.

“They play with a brave style of play, they play very open, they want to attack a lot, the manager [Karl Robinson] has obviously done a very good job of instilling that at this club and at other clubs he’s been at as well.

“It’s no surprise that they’ve scored the most goals in the league [73 to Town’s 57, the division’s ninth-highest] and recorded some of scorelines they have because they’re a very open and dynamic team and they have a lot of god individual players as well, a lot of players who I know, the likes of [Cameron] Brannagan and Herbie Kane, the Irish boys that they have as well that I’ve seen and worked with at different times.

“They have players of a good pedigree, good individual players, they’re a well-coached team with a good philosophy, so it’s no surprise to me that they’re up the top of the league and scoring a lot of goals, and we know it’s going to be a big challenge on Saturday.”

One of Oxford’s top performers this season, 13-goal midfielder Brannagan, is someone McKenna knows all about from the 25-year-old's days as a young player at Anfield and in England’s U18s and U20s.

“He’s a player I remember very well from Liverpool days,” the Blues manager recalled. “When I was at Tottenham, Harry Winks was I think the same age group and I’ve seen the two of them have some good tussles. I’ve seen him in a lot of academy football and international tournament football as well.

“A good midfield player, I think certainly with Herbie Kane and Marcus McGuane as well, another two very talented young midfield players who have come through big club academies [Liverpool and Arsenal respectively].

“They’ve a strong squad right the way through. It’s no surprise the position they are in the league and we know it’s going to be a good challenge but we also know we have some very good players and we’re developing our style of play in a really positive way.

“We’ll respect them and respect how they play but the main focus will be about how we’re going to go there and impose ourselves on the game and try and turn that into a win.”

Reflecting on Oxford’s approach further, he added: “I think their base idea is always to attack, their base idea is a really positive style of play and that’s how they look to implement it in most games.

“I think every team has to find moments where they can adapt and adjust their tactics according to the state of the game or to the opposition.

“We’ve had a lot of experience of that lately with teams who have given us a really high level of respect and adapt from how they normally go about their business and are maybe a little bit more conservative against us, which has been a challenge for us.

“I would expect Oxford at home to be a team who will look to go out to be positive and be on the front foot and look to bring their game to us.

“In a way, I’m excited by that challenge, hopefully it will make for a good game and an open game between two good teams.

“Throughout any level of football, you always have the way that you want to be able to go about your business and as managers you have the way that you want to see your team play on the pitch but you also know there are different circumstances and different moments in games where you need to be able to adapt.

“My prediction is that you’ll see two teams on Saturday who will go out on the front foot and try an impose themselves on the game.”

McKenna will almost certainly stick with keeper Christian Walton and the back three of Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden, who will be making his 100th appearance for the Blues, and Cameron Burgess, who made an impressive return to the team against Portsmouth last week. Wes Burns and Dominic Thompson are set to continue as the wing-backs.

In midfield, McKenna will assess skipper Sam Morsy, who has been forced off in the last two matches with a hamstring problem, at Friday training before deciding whether or not he will play. If not, it’s likely Tom Carroll will come into the team alongside Tyreeq Bakinson.

The Blues boss is forced into at least one change to his front three with Kayden Jackson having suffered a hamstring injury which is expected to keep him out for the remainder of the league season but in any case switches his attacking trio on a match-by-match basis.

McKenna could opt to start Joe Pigott, whose last league goal was back in August but who impressed his manager in the 2-0 win at Fleetwood a fortnight ago, with Sone Aluko and Bersant Celina in the number 10 roles behind the former AFC Wimbledon striker.

Oxford boss Robinson believes Saturday’s game will be one of his side’s toughest of the season.

“I can’t wait for it,” he told iFollow Oxford. “It’s a massive game for both teams and we are so excited for it. There will be a full house and we know the excitement around the day.

“We honestly can’t wait for it. We know their coach well, I know a lot of their players personally and it’s interesting for me to come up against a manager I’ve not been against before.

“It’s going to take time for him to implement his ideas but they are going well and it will be one of the hardest games of the season.

“They are a club who should be above us and we are very proud to be where we are in terms of some very big teams in this league.

“Like Oxford, Ipswich had great years in the 80s and like any club the history becomes embedded in the people around the place and among the fans.

“It’s like me as a kid. I never saw a Bill Shankly side or Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, but I know everything about them through my grandfather, my dad, my mum.

“It’s important to respect that but at the same time with the way the game is moving and evolving you have got to have your own way of doing things to move forward. Ipswich will be doing that and will find a way, like we have done.”

Keeper Jack Stevens is available again having missed last Saturday’s 2-1 win at Shrewsbury due to a bad cold which affected a number of players.

James Henry, who has been out with a groin problem, is back in training, while Marcus Browne (hamstring), Elliott Moore (ankle), Alex Gorrin (ACL) and Jamie Hanson are all longer-term absentees.

Oxford have won five of their last six, losing the other 3-2 at Portsmouth, and have a League One home record of won 12, drawn four and lost three.

Historically, the Blues have had the better of the U’s, winning eight (six in the league) of the games between the teams, drawing nine (nine) and losing six (six).

Four of the last five games between the teams - and the last three - have ended goalless with the other having ended in a 1-0 U’s victory at Portman Road in February 2020.

Town’s last win against the U’s was back in February 1999 when goals - the Blues’ most recent against Oxford - from Matt Holland and Mark Venus, from the penalty spot, saw George Burley’s Kieron Dyer-inspired side to a 2-1 win at Portman Road.

Town and Oxford drew 0-0 at Portman Road in November, the Blues having come closest to scoring in the first half when Bonne and later Celina hit the same post.

The teams last met at the Kassam Stadium in December 2020 when the game again ended 0-0 with the home side coming closest to breaking the deadlock during a dull fixture.

Blues keeper David Cornell pushed a Henry cross on to the post in the first half, while Town, who hit their first effort on target in the 90th minute, went nearest to scoring when Jon Nolan shot over on 75.

Town wing-back Burns spent time on loan at Oxford during the 2014/15 season, making six starts and three sub appearances, scoring once.

Blues CEO Mark Ashton previously held the same position at Oxford, while chairman Mike O'Leary was a director at the Kassam Stadium.

Saturday’s referee is Marc Edwards from Tyne and Wear, who has shown 67 yellow cards and two red in 21 matches this season.

Edwards’s only previous Town game was coincidentally the 0-0 draw with Oxford at Portman Road in February last year in which he booked Myles Kenlock and three of the visitors.

Squad from: Walton, Hladky, Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Baggott, Burns, Vincent-Young, Thompson, Penney, Morsy, El Mizouni, Carroll, Bakinson, Celina, Aluko, Chaplin, Bonne, Norwood, Pigott, Simpson.

Photo: TWTD

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Timefliesbyintheblue added 18:04 - Mar 17
I am really looking forward to this game between two sides with technically gifted players and good managers/coaches. Please genuine supporters of ITFC, let's remember that KM will probably finish the season with an average of two points a game, whatever happens on Saturday. That in itself is incredible and our future is in good hands. I trust the manager in everything he says and does. The last half a dozen games have been a joy to watch and always remember that the opposition will be as keen as we will to win the game.
McKenna and Robinson know the game well and Oxford have managed to sign some players that perhaps should have been on our radar in earlier days!
I am old enough to remember Jim Magilton scoring against us at The Manor ground for Oxford; it might just be our turn this time, but whatever happens, keep the faith.

BeattiesBackPocket added 18:19 - Mar 17
Timeflysbyintheblue I’m that old as well. And remember climbing over the away fence when we got the result we needed for promotion under John Lyall there. What a day that was.

TimmyH added 18:34 - Mar 17
Unbelievable stat - we haven't scored against Oxford since we went down to league one in 5 attempts!! (four of them 0-0's) this simply has to change.

Win...nothing else matters!

OldFart71 added 18:44 - Mar 17
McKenna has done brilliantly. But what stands out between us and Rotherham is goals for. The defence has definitely improved but we need more firepower up front. McKenna obviously didn't have time to address this in January. But it must be put right at the end of this season. Whilst the opinion coming out of PR seems to be that Jackson will be staying I don't think Norwood will. He's not mobile enough and why hang on to him for another season and if we got promoted then still have to replace him for a Championship campaign as I believe his level is definitely no higher than League One and let's face it he hasn't exactly ripped this up.

Ipswichbusiness added 19:56 - Mar 17
I’m surprised to see that Morsy is in the squad after his injury. Perhaps it isn’t quite as serious as I feared.

KiwiTractor added 00:18 - Mar 18
As TimmyH mentions, hard to bet against a 0-0...

Time to blow this recent record against Oxford out of the water - I'll take a 5-0 win, thanks.

Bazza8564 added 08:56 - Mar 18
Well, we've sold out our allocation (yet) again and looking atthe stadium it doesnt feel like an intimidating place so with Oxford's style very much about football (save the second half down here obviously when even their GK got cramp) it should be a very open game. Ideal opportunity then !!

Razor added 10:09 - Mar 18
Oh for some forwards------where is SIMPSON and why was he brought back if we are not going to play him------I think there is something fishy here-----we could do with his power and strength up front------ewhere is he!!!!???

Barty added 10:23 - Mar 18
It has been brilliant since McKenna took over. In all honesty for us to have a chance at making the play -offs we will need to win 7 of out last 8 games [ probably not going to happen ] but already have so much optimism for next season

barrystedmunds added 21:13 - Mar 18
Can’t help thinking that the Cheltenham, Morecambe and to a lesser extent,the Portsmouth results are coming back to bite us! With those additional 6 points I would be optimistic of our chances. Not win tomorrow then I feel it’s another season in this god awful league. Hope I’m wrong COYBs

Linkboy13 added 10:29 - Mar 19
Yes Barrystedmunds i think your stating the obvious as they say. But its not only points dropped recently that's costing us its over the whole season. Im going to state the obvious by saying it's the loss of form of Macaulay Bonne that's really costing us he just doesn't look fit to me and has lost a yard of pace and not capable of playing the lone role up front. Pigott also lacks mobility and for a big man wins little in the air and is so easily knocked off the ball.

warno added 11:51 - Mar 19
Isn't Simpson injured?

barrystedmunds added 00:50 - Mar 20
Stating the obvious is my forte! Linkboy13. My point was since KMcK has been at the helm these were games we shouldve really won by a country mile given our dominance. Results before his appointment are neither here nor there, we we’re destined for mid table obscurity under PC. As for Bonne, seems a little unfair to blame him alone for our failings, I would suggest, stating the obvious, it’s one area that KMcK has had the most difficulty with and for me a complete clear out at the top end of the pitch is needed if we are to progress.

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