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McKenna: Second Half Was a Completely Different Game
Saturday, 16th Apr 2022 15:56

Town boss Kieran McKenna was happy with his side’s display in the first half of their 1-0 defeat at Rotherham United but admitted it was different game in the second.

Michael Smith’s 78th-minute goal was the difference between the sides, although in the first half it was Town that had the best chance when James Norwood scuffed a golden opportunity wide.

“I think the first half was probably a fair reflection of where we’ve been lately,” McKenna said. “I thought it was a good performance against a very difficult team.

“I thought we stood up to the physical threat well, I thought we gave them all sorts of problems when we played through the pitch, they struggled to deal with the overloads, we had runners on the last line and we had the clearest chance in the whole game in that period and a couple of other opportunities that we really should have capitalised on.

“I think they were probably glad to get to half-time at 0-0 and we should be going in with a lead.

“Obviously the second half was a completely different game. They managed to impose themselves in the first few minutes physically and turned it into a game of set plays.

“I think the ball was hardly in play in the whole half, it just became a barrage of corners and throw-ins that we weren’t able to stand up to for the whole half, and we weren’t able to get the ball in play enough and secure enough possession to be able to keep them away from our goal.

“It becomes very difficult within that situation against a Rotherham team, who are obviously very, very good at that phase of the game.”

The defeat mathematically ended any lingering hopes the Blues might have had of making the top six, however, McKenna felt it was looking all but impossible anyway.

“I think over the last week or two we’ve mentally known that we would go to try and win every game but that the play-offs were probably going to be beyond us for the play-offs this year,” he said.

“It was always going to be a very tall ask after the start to the season that we had and the points we’ve had to claw back, and especially with the runs that the other teams have had.

“I don’t think today changes that, it’s probably points that we’ve dropped earlier in the season that dictated that.

“For us it’s about building now. I think it’s really clear for me to say, I think it’s clear for other people to see the areas of the game that we’re very good at and the things that we’re doing very well and there are also things that we need to do better and things that we need to improve in the summer, both with our recruitment and with coaching.

“We look forward to that process now. We can go into the summer with a really good level of clarity of what we need to do to improve the team and improve the squad and that’s a process we’re looking forward to and a really important process to set us in a better position to start the season well and hopefully be in a very different position in 12 months’ time.”

The Northern Irishman said he made the decision to hand 19-year-old Elkan Baggott his league debut earlier in the week with the Indonesia international's parents watching from the stands.

“We made it in the middle of the week, it wasn’t an easy decision because you’re putting in a player who has not played a proper competitive game,” he said.

“I know he played in the EFL Trophy a couple of seasons ago but I don’t think you can compare that with Rotherham away.

“But it’s very important to us that we show the young players here that there’s a pathway and an opportunity here and if you train well and you buy into everything that we’re doing, then when opportunities come along then you’ll get your chance.

“And I think that was the right thing with Elkan, I think he can be pleased with his performance on a personal level and it sets him off well and hopefully he can build on that experience, I’m sure he will do, and take the lessons forward in his career.”

Quizzed on whether one or two younger players might get a chance in the remaining games, the likes of striker Tyreece Simpson and midfielder Cameron Humphreys, he added: “We have to look at it. Our first thought now is towards Wigan and making sure that we’re very competitive in that game.

“It’s a disappointed feeling today because of how the second half went but we can’t allow ourselves to stew on that for too long because we’ve got a very similar type of game against Wigan on Tuesday night at home and the first thought has to be putting out what we feel is the best team to win that game on Tuesday night.”

Can the Blues learn much from Rotherham and how they got the victory over the line in the second half?

“There were no surprises from Rotherham today, they do what they do very well and they’ve done it very well over a number of years, so we knew exactly what to expect,” McKenna reflected.

“Again, I thought we stood up to it pretty well in the first half and that’s one of the bits that we need to be able to do better is when we do impose ourselves in a game, we need to have better execution and then be better in those moments to score.

“I think in the second half when they took that physical challenge to us with the set plays and with the man-to-man press all over the pitch where they were leaving us one-v-ones in 60 yards of space, we need to have more weapons to hurt them in that phase and we need to have more solidity about us to defend that barrage in those moments in this league when it comes.

“I think they’re a very good, a very successful team, they play how they play, they do it very well and we got exactly what we expected and we just need to develop and get better at playing how we want to play.”

Rotherham manager Paul Warne felt it was a vital victory for his side after a tough spell which had seen them drop out of the top two.

“We’ve been on a bit of a sticky wicket. I wanted a win, obviously, but I also just wanted a performance to give the lads a boost,” he said.

“I thought the fans turned up in good voice and were excellent today, they gave the lads a real boost.

“In the first half we were a little nervy but in the second we were really, really good. I thought we deserved our win.

“Even if we hadn’t won, I’d have been proud of the lads today. Hopefully, we can take that into the Burton game on Tuesday.

“All the people who went to the End of Season Dinner were full of praise for the lads, they were seeing all the great goals we’ve scored and maybe, it gave them a little bit of a boost.”

Photo: Pagepix

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martin587 added 16:05 - Apr 16
Honest assessment as usual.Nothing more to add.

ButchersBrokenNose added 16:16 - Apr 16
The key takeaway from this interview:

"We can go into the summer with a really good level of clarity of what we need to do to improve the team and improve the squad..."

This confirms what we've hoped for over the last month or two: Mr. McKenna knows what's wrong and has a plan (supported by the owners) to fix it. Expect massive changes in the summer.

Letchworth_Blue added 16:16 - Apr 16
We were crap in the second half. Same as usual, no creativity and no end product. Need to solve this in the summer. It's no use having loads of possession and not troubling the keeper.

Suffolkboy added 16:27 - Apr 16
Discrete but pointed and complete in his analysis ; a balanced objective and unemotional assessment without in any way subduing his enthusiasm for the task ahead .
Some interesting decisions probably already made and more in train ; both on retentions ,releases and recruitment !
Roll on with only positive thoughts !

BossMan added 16:54 - Apr 16
Every week its 3 cb's, 2 holding midfielders and only 1 up front. No wonder we don't score many goals.

muhrensleftfoot added 17:07 - Apr 16
Honeymoon now over Kieran. A decent start and no one judging yet. We're certainly easier on the eye than we've been for a few years. However next season anything less than automatic promotion with the resources at our disposal will be failure. First thing to fix is our inability to threaten at set pieces.

HUTCHITFC added 17:25 - Apr 16
I know I need to stop living in the past but I just can't believe teams like Rotherham / Plymouth / Wycombe are better than us at the moment. I suppose that's just football nowadays and clubs like Oldham could say the same given their position in football. However, under Mckenna I am very optimistic about our future and will keep telling myself that. I just crave the days when I was at places like the San Siro watching Ipswich.

tallguy6767 added 17:35 - Apr 16
McKenna knows what's required now for us to challenge for promotion next season, and wouldn't be surprised if the whole front line got replaced in the summer.

kpblues added 17:38 - Apr 16
Fair assesment by KMk
Things we are good at:
Good manager
Great new structure
First half performances
Right hand side
Things we are not so good at:
Second half performance
Left hand side
Scoring goals
Set plays

I have confidence that our leader will fix these next year so COYB!

Facefacts added 17:46 - Apr 16
I can understand what he's saying but the referees are not good enough in this league to protect honest teams who want to play good football. No, the cheats are getting cleverer and the referees worse. The other problem is that we need a world class striker to play on his own in the chosen formation, if we are going to score enough goals. One world class striker , let alone another as backup to him, is not going to join a mid table League 1 club. As people have said, we also need to buy in goalscoring midfielders as well. I can't see why people are optimistic about top 2 next season when there are teams with smaller, nastier, hungrier squads and we are the softest touch in the league.

MickMillsTash added 17:46 - Apr 16
I think we've all known that we need a centre forward (S) and a left back but today also showed we need more physicality.

Their trainer came on 8-9 times today and at one time they had 3 trainers on the pitch , their goalie went down twice- football is becoming a joke and needs rule changes.
This cheating is coming from the manager - when we need a new manager Warne, Cowley's and the Oxford tw@t should not be considered.

blueboy1981 added 17:55 - Apr 16
Many words - but between now and August, much has to change into action - cannot see McKenna spending too much time off the phone, or on the Beach to be honest.
I felt too many out there today had already got their shades on second half … !!!
No names mentioned, but maybe a couple first half too … !!
Rotherham didn’t suffer that !!

Pezzer added 18:50 - Apr 16
Our basic ball control looked poor all over the pitch, pfaffing about at the back allowed Rotherham to put us under pressure, often self inflicted. Their goal was a good example- we had a short goal kick and ended up giving them a throw in in our final third. They got a corner from the long throw, another long throw from the corner clearance which ended up in the net. Much work needed to improve the squad to be serious contenders.

TimmyH added 20:08 - Apr 16
Copy and paste from last week - 'Never play a good 90 minutes, we play one half well and not the other and visa versa or just a spell of a match...we always go into lulls if we start a match well. Players need to be coached to perform throughout the match...saying this, it's been going on for years not just under McKenna'.

ringwoodblue added 20:31 - Apr 16
Can I begin by saying that I am convinced Kieran is the right man for the job and have complete faith that he will continue our steady improvement but I am concerned that it’s going to require yet another clear out and influx of new players again this summer. We tried that last year and our finishing position has ended up broadly the same.

Why can’t he get more out of a squad that most people think is one of the best in the league?

Cakeman added 21:16 - Apr 16
No doubt we have improved results and performance use since Kieran’s arrival. He will already know in his own mind what is required to strengthen. If he can get the type of players in remains to be seen. I’m optimistic we shall be ok recruitment wise with Mark Ashton working his tireless magic.
However it will take a fast start and a lot of points to be taken off the top teams if we are to stand any chance of promotion.
Next season will see the strongest division three ever seen. As well as us there will most likely be Derby who if they keep their squad should be automatic favourites. Peterborough who know how to get out this league, Barnsley who are always tough. Oxford, Wycombe, MK Dons and possibly the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth, Sunderland along with Forest Green who will be no mugs.
If we were allowed to spend our wealth we would be fine but that is not the case.
It really is going to be difficult to achieve promotion no matter who we can sign.

PhilR added 21:32 - Apr 16
Facefacts, I agree with much of what you say. The danger is that a squad is built to try to get promoted which is also likely to perform well in the Championship - what we need is a squad to get out of League One, with its poor referees and a lot of big, aggressive teams like Rotherham. I'm sure it is not an easy balance. But this would be my main message to McKenna and Ashton as we approach the summer.

1960H added 21:34 - Apr 16
@Bossman, spot on I have been saying this for weeks

churchmans added 23:12 - Apr 16
At the end of the day if your really honest and sum it up We are chit and nowhere near automatic promotion contenders!
Big summer and now 4th season in league 1 coming our way!!

Mckena needs decent signings and hit the ground running because if ipswich are not top 2 after 10 games I'm am convinced the yanks will look to change it again!

Attack is so chit its unbelievable

shakytown added 02:53 - Apr 17
We huff and we puff and yeh right!!!!!! Weak right across the pitch. Major overhaul needed in summer.

Michael101 added 09:29 - Apr 17
Second have a different game, well instead of just standing there do something on our it that's what you get paid for

anotheryear added 10:53 - Apr 17
Just a word of warning……..Next season we will be in the same league as Derby. They will have money for certain and have a squad far better than us. Barnsley, who know how to get out of this league at the first attempt. Peterborough probably the worse of the relegated teams but still as it currently stands better than us. Add to that any five from Rotherham,MK,Plymouth,Sheffield Wednesday, Wycombe,Sunderland and Oxford and you can see in the cold light of day even the playoffs are no certainty. Yes new players can be bought in just like this season but that’s not guaranteed to work. The manager is inexperienced and still learning and mistakes will be made. A poor start to next season will load pressure on him…..can he handle that. 6 points from last six games against a far mixture of this league is not what is required. Let’s wait and see but please don’t be under any disillusion’s that next season is going to be any easier than the last three

Orraman added 11:23 - Apr 17
Despite the huge uplift in anticipation since Kieran took over and the current feelgood factor surrounding the club on and off the field, the fact remains that we will be finishing no higher than we have under Lambert or Cook. Yes, the quality of football has improved immensely (until we reach the opposition penalty area) but it is quite a shameful statistic that we have not achieved 3 consecutive wins all season.
With the potential strength of League One next season we are going to have eight or nine teams of equal or better ability than us and eight or nine teams who will come to PR to park the bus or fall over throughout the game. Add to the mix that roughly 90% of League One referees are absolutely not fit for purpose and talk of automatic promotion at this stage is rather ambitious.
Obviously Kieran and Mark Ashton will already have plans in place and despite my current reservations about next season I am already looking forward to resuming battle in 22/23

PortmanTerrorist added 11:28 - Apr 17
In half a season, Kieran has reversed the mentality of the squad, got rid of some, worked out the rest, found at least 1 way of getting a consistent level of performance, and not spent a penny. A full pre season, better fitness levels, some solid recruits in midfield/attack incl a proven goal scorer or 2 (that is where we DO need to spend or be clever in Loan market), a plan B and maybe C....and we WILL be challenging next season.

With all of that, we can filter in, sensibly, our talented youth too once they have justified being picked like Elkan who, alongside Wolfy, was a joy to watch yesterday.

With Ashton and the new recruitment team in place and Kieran's coaching team also looking capable, this remains an exciting time despite some recent sketchy results where we (well, PC's Town) had put ourselves under too much pressure to deliver. Park the season, take the positives and all efforts should now be focused on 3 points in our first league game of next season, so we start the season where we expect to end the TOP.

PortmanTerrorist added 11:41 - Apr 17
PS: losing to Rotherham may not be so dumb. Not having them in League 1 next season surely opens up one of the top spots. Better them in the Championship next season !

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