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McKenna: We Could and Should Have Put the Game to Bed
Saturday, 19th Mar 2022 18:31

Town boss Kieran McKenna said it was a very disappointed dressing room following the Blues’ 1-1 draw at Oxford, Luke McNally’s 95th-minute goal having denied the Blues their first ever league win away against the U’s.

Town looked to be on their way to a crucial three points when Bersant Celina gave them the lead in the 70th minute and McKenna’s side looked in little trouble until McNally headed home from a late, late corner.

“Extreme disappointment in the dressing room, I’m sure disappointing for the fantastic fans that we had today and the support that they give us,” the Blues manager said afterwards.

“I thought in the second half especially it was a performance which deserved a win. I didn’t think they looked like scoring.

“We could have and should have probably put the game to bed with some of the counter-attacking opportunities that we had and when you don’t manage to do that at 1-0 things can happen.

“It hasn’t happened to us yet in my time here, we’ve seen games out really well, we’ve managed games well but today one moment, one set play has cost us.”

The Northern Irishman, whose side remain six points off the play-offs with only seven left to play, admitted it felt like a defeat.

“Yes, it’s a very disappointed dressing room,” he continued. “I’m sure theirs is a happy dressing room to get a point out of the game the way it went in the second half.

“We have a full week now, which is a good thing. It’s a good thing that we have Plymouth, a good team in good form at home. We have a responsibility to pick ourselves up and get ready to go again because we know there’ll be a fantastic support at Portman Road.

“It’s another massive game and the onus and the responsibility is on us as a group of staff and players to pick ourselves up, have a good week and be ready for Plymouth.”

Asked whether he feels the result is a sizeable setback in Town’s pursuit of a play-off place, McKenna said: “We’re at the business end of the season and small margins can go for or against you.

“To be honest, I don’t think we’ve probably had too many of the small margins go our way. I think the games that we’ve won we’ve thoroughly deserved to win and some of the games that we’ve dropped points in, small margins [have gone against us], whether it be missing chances or like today not giving many to any chances in the second half and then one of the few moments they had they scored.

“We probably haven’t had the margins in our favour but it’s up to us to improve. If you play the last 20 minutes better, if we’re where we want to be as a team then we probably go ahead and score the second goal and are a little bit more clinical.

“And if you’re not at that level, then it stays 1-0 and something random or lucky or a moment can happen. We can’t bemoan luck, we have to look at ourselves, look to improve.

“Again, it’s a state of the game we’ve managed really well, we’ve held on to leads well. But I guess what you could say is that not often enough we’ve gone on and got the second and third goal and killed it off. We did it against Burton but not often enough.

“We have to take that on the chin and look to improve that and look to a lot of the things that we did today but next time we’re in that situation, we’ll probably have to be a little bit more calm and clinical and go and get the second goal and then you’re not relying on margins.”

Regarding his side’s well-worked counter-attacking goal, Conor Chaplin having sent Wes Burns away to cross for Celina, McKenna said: “I thought we were close a few times in the first half in a difficult half. Wes was always going to give us penetration the way they pressed against us.

“I thought in the first half we had a couple of quick combinations where we got Wes in down the side of that box maybe four times in really good positions and our idea to execute is getting better.

“Players are looking for the right things more often and it’s just about finding that actual execution then.

“In the second half we managed to do that for the goal and we had more times after the goal and probably the bit to improve is picking out that extra little bit to get the second goal.

“But I thought our patterns, our structure, how we play our football, I thought we did it today in not easy conditions, especially with the wind, and we managed to do it pretty well and I thought we were good value for the three points in the second half but a moment’s gone against us.”

McKenna swapped Tom Carroll and Joe Pigott for skipper Sam Morsy, who has been suffering with a hamstring problem, and Macauley Bonne after only seven minutes of the second half.

The Blues boss felt both subs made an impact: “They did, we knew we had a strong bench today. I thought we’d flipped the momentum at the start of the second half anyway, to be honest.

“I really had the feeling at half-time that it would be our half in the second half. Conditions played a part in that, there was a really strong wind going down to one end, so it made it quite difficult in the first half, but I was confident in the second half we would pin them in.

“I thought the team did that right from the first couple of seconds of the half but having Sam and Macauley and the other options we had to come on, we made them nice and early and I thought especially in the period up until we got the goal, I thought we did everything we could to make it happen. We got the goal and I really fancied us to go on from there to go and win it.”

McKenna says Morsy adds drive to the midfield: “He does, he has a different dynamic to what we have with the other options in midfield in the way that he carries the ball forward and runs forward without the ball.

“He was itching to play, he trained yesterday and felt like he might be OK to go. We thought it was the right thing to see him for a burst in the second half and to protect him a little bit away from playing 90 minutes.

“To a large extent that worked but we didn’t manage to get it over the line in the second half.”

McKenna felt Bonne’s display was the on-loan QPR striker’s best since he took over as boss in mid-December.

“Really good,” he enthused. “I thought that was head and shoulders his best 45 minutes in my time here. I felt like that was hopefully Macauley getting back to his best self.

“I have to say he’s been positive around the place, we’ve had a couple of good chats this week and he’s feeling better in himself and, as I say, I thought that was his best 45 minutes and hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.”

McKenna says Pigott is in need of a goal having found the net most recently in the league back in August.

“Strikers are confidence players and he’s probably not at his most confident,” he reflected on the ex-AFC Wimbledon frontman.

“He had a couple of little opportunities that didn’t go his way, but that’s football and it’s up to him to keep working hard in training.”

One positive to take from the game was that the Blues went toe-to-toe with one of the division’s top sides and there would probably have been little complaint from Oxford had Town claimed all three points.

“Certainly when you look beneath the surface of a result, that we wanted to win and didn’t and any time you concede in the 95th minute you’re going to be pretty sick, but I think it follows the pattern that we’ve had in all the games really,” McKenna added.

“We’ve played a good number of the good teams now, the teams that are doing better in the league, we’ve still got a few to play and so far I think we’ve matched up pretty well to anyone. And we’ve got a few more big challenges to go of that sort of ilk starting with Plymouth next Saturday.”

Oxford manager Karl Robinson admitted Town were much the better side in the second period.

“The first half, we missed two one-on-ones, we had Gavin’s volley from 10 yards out, Willo’s [Ryan Williams] shot from six yards – four what I would class as good opportunities to score,” he told the Oxford Mail.

“Then all of a sudden second half, they were brilliant and were all over us.

“They caused us so many problems and we couldn’t find an answer tactically, and we panicked a little bit and were edgy, which is completely not like us.

“We keep them eight points away from us, which is big with seven games to go.”

He added: “It wasn’t great but we fought like anything, we’re the leading goalscorers in the country in the last 10 minutes of games so that’s a tremendous never say die attitude, and that’s what we had to rely on today.

“We know we were way below par in the second half, the opposition were above par but by hook or by crook, we managed to nick a point, which is incredibly pleasing.

“I said to Shorty [first-team coach Craig Short] and the lads, if we’re here for the next three days, we’re not going to score.

“Then the big man [McNally], the big colossus – he found a way to nick a goal. We’re very good at coming from behind and scoring late goals.”

Photo: Pagepix

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mike added 18:41 - Mar 19
So so annoying, feels like a defeat!!

martin587 added 18:41 - Mar 19
Such an honest man.His assessment was spot on.The future looks exceptionally bright with Kieran at the helm.

Lukeybluey added 18:56 - Mar 19
Thought we played really well especially when Morsy and Bonne came on. They changed the game. Just a last minute sucker punch today.
If we don't get to the playoffs this year, we stand a massive chance next, maybe even automatic with the way we play.
I still think we are just another tenacious midfielder to play alongside Morsy, a consistent all round striker and a consistent left wingback away from absolutely destroying the league. Also sign up Celina.
We have a very very decent team on and off the pitch.

ImAbeliever added 18:57 - Mar 19
Martin587…✅ I can’t wait to renew for next season

Linkboy13 added 19:07 - Mar 19
In most areas of the pitch we look too good for this league. But in the most important area the last third we look pedestrian. Derby county look like they might get relegated. Would like to see us make a bid for Tom Lawrence and another striker we've certainly got the money now. The owners are making some ambitious plans to upgrade the ground and pitch but surely the main parity is to get it right on the pitch first.

Len_Brennan added 04:16 - Mar 20
Such a gut wrenching blow; just when we had all started dreaming again. Given how solid & dependable our defence has been, I did not see the (very) late goal against coming. It is the hope that kills you.
Very fair assessment from McKenna, (and indeed Robinson) and I think he is sums us up very accurately with the following:
"... we’ve managed really well, we’ve held on to leads well. But I guess what you could say is that not often enough we’ve gone on and got the second and third goal and killed it off"
Even the top sides like Man City & Liverpool can concede goals against the run of play late on; one of their defenders can make an individual error, but more often than not, they will have already have put the game to bed at the other end of the pitch by then.
That's where we need to get to; at League 1 equivalence initially, then at Championship level, then as Premier League championship contenders, and of course as Champions of Europe by the end of the decade.

MickMillsTash added 09:26 - Mar 20
NO complaints about the performance and we know our play deserves more goals
Complaints today are about the referee- has there ever been a worse performance? AND about Oxford- whose time wasting and cheating were a step up from Fleetwood. A top 4 side - Really ?
I did not like Joe Garner ever for his antics I didn't like Wes Burns dropping to ground, as if shot, after a 50/50 yesterday but all of Oxford were at it all of the game and it ruins the match.

The sooner we get out of this village football league the better.

Ebantiass added 11:18 - Mar 20
The Oxford commentator said it himself Ipswich are way too good for this league and have run the show particularly in the second half. Plaudits are well and good but they wont get you promoted.

Beattiesballbag added 11:27 - Mar 20
Well at least the days are gone where we are out played by the other team (where ever their position in the league). As each game passes we look like we can dominate this league, as we are looking stronger in the second half who ever we play & not folding like we were begining of the season.
It's unfortunate that the end product is not matching the rest of the progress we are making but now we are finally on the right track heading in the right direction, Ashton & McKenna will will sort that out close season & it should be party time next season.......Be it this division or not we are going to have happy times to look forward to.

runningout added 12:43 - Mar 20
at only 1 nil up these will happen. Can’t be too down and surprised!! When forwards are on it and ruthless we may be going places

norfolkbluey added 07:36 - Mar 21
Our current team has transformed itself over a comparatively short period with few new players coming in, but there is still a nagging feeling there are too few opportunities being taken to score, especially from set pieces especially from corners. Our defensive play when everyone is fit is now brilliant a fact underlined by the recent results. It is a concern that we rarely score more than two goals a game and without Burns we look devoid of penetration. I hate it when individuals are selected for insult but we must find a more creative and imaginative way of playing in the box to get out of this league. Sometimes it can be big men up front who bully defences, and if it takes those tactics to get promoted I don't mind just get us out of this league Paul. You are doing a fabulous job for us and your intelligent summaries are a breath of fresh air.

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