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McKenna: Game Summarised Some of the Best of Us and Some of the Things We Need to Improve
Tuesday, 19th Apr 2022 23:01

Town boss Kieran McKenna felt his side’s performance as they drew 2-2 at home with Wigan showed the best and worst of his team but was pleased with the Blues’ overall performance.

Former Town striker Will Keane netted an 86th-minute equaliser for the Latics having put the Lancastrians ahead just before half-time, prior to Conor Chaplin and Sam Morsy, a one-time Wigan captain, giving the Blues a lead which they’d deserved on the balance of play.

“Happy with the performance in general. I thought it was a good game, so many lessons in there for us as a team,” McKenna said.

“Some important steps that we made as a team and then some things that it’s clear we need to improve and iron out for next year.

“First half probably summarised the worst of us at the moment, in terms of what I thought was an outstanding performance, intensity, speed of our play, positions that we got in, limitation of the other team to absolutely nothing, dealing with time-wasting an everything from the first minute.

“We imposed ourselves so, so well in the game and then we get caught up in a silly couple of minutes, silly row, silly set play and we concede a set play on the stroke of half-time.

“It probably summarised some of the best of us at the moment and some of the things that we really need to improve.

“But probably the biggest positive was the way we chased it down in the second half. Being 1-0 down to Wigan and with the fact we haven’t scored enough goals in general despite our good play, I think a key bit was the fact that we were able to go out and apply the same pressure and go and get two goals in whatever it was, 25 minutes or so. I think that gives the group a lot of confidence, something that we can build on.

“And then obviously there was the disappointment of not being able to see the game out, which I think we should be able to do, and kill it off with another goal.

“There were so many ups and downs in the game, so much to take from it, lots of things to be pleased and proud of the players about really and something for us to improve.”

McKenna was unsurprisingly frustrated by the Latics’ first goal, coming just before half-time from their first corner, Town having previously won six.

“It was the way it seems to be going at the moment,” he reflected. “At the end of such a dominant first half where we looked like a team that was really fighting for something, which was pleasing.

“But we got involved in a couple of silly incidents. I think they managed to turn the game into what they wanted for a couple of minutes and we got caught up in that and then we switched off at a corner.

“A really harsh, harsh lesson about the league and the requirements, but probably a lesson that’s better off consolidated and cemented in everyone’s minds now rather than it happening in three or six months’ time. A clear thing for us to reflect on with the players and work on.”

McKenna felt his side’s first goalscorer Chaplin had his best game since he took over as Blues manager.

“He is one who’s good at getting his shots off in those tight spaces,” he said. “I thought his all-round performance was excellent, to be honest, I think that was probably his best performance in my time here.

“Starting with his intensity, him and Macauley [Bonne] leading from the front with that, but his general play, his understanding now of how he can contribute in general play, it’s still a little bit of an adaptation for Conor, he was more of a pure striker in his early career.

“He probably will and has to evolve his game a little bit as he develops now and I think his general play was probably at the highest level it’s been and for him, despite the improvements in his general play, we keep reinforcing with him that we’ve got to get him in goalscoring areas because his best attribute is his ability to get snap-shots off in tight areas in and around the box and that’s a key attribute for us and he did it very well for the goal.”

Skipper Morsy got in to an area into which McKenna has been encouraging him to progress forward into.

“Yes, he just keeps getting in there,” the Northern Irishman said. “He had a couple on Saturday at Rotherham that were so unfortunate it didn’t fall to him.

“He had the one in the first half where Dom [Thompson] crossed it across goal and the goalkeeper tipped it and if he tips it another half an inch, it falls to Sam’s feet.

“And even on the long run that Woolfy [Luke Woolfenden] made in the second half, where he ends up getting to the byline, if you look at the video, Sam is standing six yards out waiting for the cut-back.

“If you keep making those runs, keep getting in those areas, it’s very hard to pick you up. It might not fall in any given game but if you keep doing it game after game, then plenty of goals are going to fall to you.

“That’s three now for him over the last couple of months and hopefully if he plays a similar role, he can get a really healthy tally next year.”

Had he encouraged his team to take more shots from outside the box? “I think we could have taken more, to be honest. I think we had 10 shots, I think we should be taking more.

“I don’t want us to take pot shots, I don’t want us to be speculating on very low opportunities but we need to be better at getting our shots off in tight bodies.

“The way we’re dominating games, often there are going to be bodies in front of the ball and you’re not always going to have a clear opportunity, so that’s one of the details we need to get better at, getting our shots off and manipulating shooting positions in crowded areas.

“We did it a few times today but I thought we could have got more shots off for the territory and the possession and the play that we had.”

Town never looked like a team with nothing to left to play for, which McKenna put down to the fans as well as his side.

“Credit to the players for that,” he said. “Credit to the supporters for that. I think the players know that the way that they’ve been supported all year, they can’t come out here and give anything less than 100 per cent and the players give that.

“And I think the supporters responded to that and there were a couple of really good moments where the crowd were really getting behind some of the passages of play, some of the intensity of our pressing.

“We’ve got a few games left, but I think everyone in the group, in the club and in the stadium that we’re building towards something, whether it’s the last game of the season or the first game of next season, it’s part of the same journey that we want to make.”

Overall, McKenna was pleased to go toe-to-toe with a team which is all but certain to be promoted, as they have done against most of the sides towards the top of the division.

“I think we’ve done that, I think we’ve played everyone in the top six or seven, we’ve certainly gone toe-to-toe in terms of intent, toe-to-toe in terms of our performance in the large majority of all the games, probably second half on Saturday being one exception to that,” he said.

“We imposed our style of play, we know we can do that, we know that we can go and perform very, very well against anyone in this league, but again we need to be better at converting that into goals and we need to be resilient mentally and tactically and physically to the things that the opposition will try and impose on us.”

Does the display give him confidence going into the summer and next season? “I think it’s probably how I’ve felt anyway, to be honest. It was certainly one of our better performances. I think we’ve hit and around that level in quite a few games.

“I think it should give us optimism. There’s that feeling in the group and in the squad but then we also need to be realistic about the reasons the club is where it is in the table.

“The things that haven’t gone well this season and we need to make sure that we do better in those areas off the pitch and on the pitch in the summer.”

The Blues boss says young centre-half Elkan Baggott fully understood why Cameron Burgess returned to the side, the former Australian U23 international’s suspension at the weekend having led to the full Indonesia cap’s league debut at Rotherham.

“Yes, I think Cameron’s done well since he’s come in, has done well for us over a period of a couple of months,” he said.

“Elkan’s a young kid who had his first game, a good taste of it, a good debut but we were very clear with Elkan’s development path, I’ve had plenty of conversations with him before Saturday anyway and I think he’s clear on his development journey and the steps we want him to take to hopefully be a big player for us in the future.”

Wigan boss Leam Richardson was particularly pleased with the effort his side put in to grab the point.

“I thought the work ethic was fantastic,” he said. “It was an intense game and our distances were a little bit off in periods but I thought we still looked a threat going forward.

“The character, work-rate [was there] and I thought we worked hard enough to get that result tonight.

“We set up to come and win. The fans in the top corner were fantastic and the energy that comes from them onto the pitch is great. I thought every player that stepped on the pitch was excellent.”

He added: “We probably weren’t as fluent as we have been this year in possession but I thought we worked as hard as anybody out of possession and now and again you can try and control games out of possession because you have to respect the team in front of you. I thought in transition and on the counter we always looked a threat.”

Richardson also had praise for Blues skipper Sam Morsy, who he worked with during the midfielder's spell at Wigan while assistant to former Blues and Latics boss Paul Cook.

“I was thinking 'I'm gonna strangle him', to be fair,” he joked. “Look, I've worked with Sam over numerous years, and he's such a good player. He's a real leader, but he's never really been a goalscorer.

“If you arrive in the box, you're going to get chances like that, and I thought he was excellent tonight, along with a few of their players.”

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TractorBeezer added 02:24 - Apr 20
An entertaining game but we must get the business done especially from set plays and corners.

BossMan added 07:36 - Apr 20
I've been banging the drum for Chaplin all season and don't think he has had the support he deserves from either the manager or his own fans.

Cakeman added 08:36 - Apr 20
I really don’t know what to make of our team. In some ways we appear to be close to be on the right track and at other times we look very ordinary.
I really like the start Kieran has made but very soon I think he really needs to settle on a core of 12 or 13 players who aside from injury will form the ‘main’ squad.
The likes of Rotherham, Wigan and MK Dons do not rotate players anywhere near as much as we do and this must have an effect on results.
I’m sure Kieran will strengthen in the Summer but please just go with a small squad and give players a run of games not just one or two.
Still very much to look forward to but let us have some continuity.

churchmans added 09:21 - Apr 20
Better quality players needed in the summer!
We don't score enough and we conceded at especially recently!!
Fans who think we don't need to change much neds to look at the league table! 5,6 more players needed imo

Batteredblue added 12:57 - Apr 20
Keep the squad tight but add quality. We need a LWB, central mid cover, left winger (Edwards potentially that man if KMcK can get some finished product from him) and two strikers who can score at this level. I suspect none of these will come from the known lists that everyone trots out. I suggest there will be a lot shown the door too, Nors, Bonne, Thompson, Kenlock, Hladky, Holy, Carroll plus a couple of others.

Lathers added 13:47 - Apr 20
There were quite a few positives to take from last night's game. Coming back to lead from behind when we struggle to score goals was good to see. We were more direct at times, had a few shots and got some crosses in. Pretty basic stuff, but it hasn't been happening. The 2 goals came from us winning a 2nd ball in the box and from a cross nodded back across goal which was good to see, rather than us trying to score the perfect goal.

Bakinson and Thompson's mistakes cost us two very soft goals. McKenna has had to work with what he inherited and what he could bring in on loan, but I doubt he will want to keep either of these 2 for next season.

@BossMan - I agree that Chaplin will be an important player for us in L1 next season. Celina and Aluko are maybe too luxury/inconsistent for this gritty level of football, but keeping them depends on whether we can find better suited options for L1.

The core of the squad is decent. Our keeper and defence is sorted. We obviously need another quality CM as we rely too heavily on Morsy. A couple of left sided options (ideally a left footed Burns) and a couple of proven L1 goalscorers like Ladapo or Clarke-Harris.


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