|Forest Green Rovers 1 v 2 Ipswich Town|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 6th August 2022 Kick-off 15:00
McKenna: It'll Be About Our Performance, Focus and Mentality
Friday, 5th Aug 2022 10:47
Town visit Forest Green Rovers on Saturday for their first ever game against the Nailsworth-based side, who will be hosting their first League One fixture at the Bolt New Lawn following their promotion as League Two champions last season.
The Gloucestershire team, famously the world’s first vegan, carbon-neutral professional sports club, has made huge strides in recent years under the ownership of green energy tycoon Dale Vince, entering the EFL for the first time in 2017 after winning the National League play-offs.
Town boss Kieran McKenna has been impressed by their progress in recent seasons.
“They've done fantastically as a football club over the last few years in the way they've built the infrastructure and also how they've built the team on the pitch,” he said.
“They've got a really ingrained style of play, I have to say. They've not changed too much from last season. I saw quite a lot of them last season and I thought they were impressive, a really attractive style of play and they imposed themselves with the ball in possession and their playing through the pitch was good, and they scored a lot of goals.”
Even though it’s been a busy summer in terms of personnel changes, most significantly manager Rob Edwards departing for Championship Watford and former Notts County boss Ian Burchnall taking over, McKenna says they have maintained last season’s approach.
“They've lost some key individuals this year on the management side of things and player side of things, but they've kept a good sense of continuity despite that,” the Blues manager continued.
“Ian is someone I came across early in my career and is a good young manager and a good coach, and he's very much picked up the baton from where they left off last year in terms of the system and the style of play. And they've recruited well into those positions that they lost.
“I think they are a good team again this season and I thought their performance last week was very good. And I thought they deserved the [2-1] victory against Bristol Rovers on the balance of play and created a lot of good chances.
“So we know, as with all teams, they are a team to absolutely respect and will bring challenges and bring their own thing to the game, and they certainly did that last weekend.
“Beyond all that, it's about us and it's about our performance, our focus and our mentality going into the game and approaching it in a really positive and aggressive manner and going there to get three points. We've looked at them and analysed them a lot, but the focus will be on us and what we do on the pitch.”
McKenna says he has known Ian Burchnall for some time, prior to the Forest Green boss’s spells in Norway, with Sarpsborg 08 where he was assistant to former England striker Brian Deane and then Viking where he was initially assistant before taking over as manager, and Sweden where he was in charge of Östersund.
“When I was involved in a university set-up at Loughborough he was coming through the Leeds University set-up, so we were on a similar trajectory and pathway at that point in our careers,” McKenna recalled.
“Obviously, he went on a different route and picked up good experience and picked up experience abroad as well.
“Credit it to him for that and he deserves his opportunity now in League One, having done well last year with Notts County [the Magpies finished fifth in the National League but lost in the play-offs].
“A good manager and it’s good that he's had the opportunity at Forest Green and again from what I've seen in pre-season and the first game, they have picked up where they left off last year.”
Is he anticipating an open game? “I wouldn't mind one. They are a positive and brave team and they look to impose themselves on the game. They did it away to Bristol Rovers last week and they did it in their pre-season games that I watched, even against Bristol City and against teams from a higher league they tried to impose themselves on the game.
“Knowing Ian as well and how positive they've been getting to this point, I don't think they'll be looking to take a massive backwards step now in their style of play.
“I think they'll look to play their game and I think we'll always look to go on and impose ourselves on the game.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a game with lots of ball in play, which I think is big in this league, and there's lots of action and an entertaining game for our away fans. But ultimately, the three points are going to be what matters.”
Might his side have to show patience when away against the division’s smaller clubs this season?
“I think it’s always a balance, that is certainly massive how we play our game and impose our style on the game, that’s probably one of the biggest things that we didn’t manage to do in the first 20, 25 minutes against Bolton last week,” McKenna reflected.
“The game was so helter-skelter, there was no flow to it, the ball wasn’t in play or on the ground very much and neither team was able to string together too many passes.
“I think when it’s that type of game, it doesn’t necessarily always suit us, we like to take control and dominate games.
“But on the other hand we want to be really aggressive and really positive, we don’t want to wait, we don’t want to necessarily go away from home and focus on wearing teams down and winning, we want to be aggressive and try and score from the first moment.
“It’s always a balance, sometimes you don’t get it right, sometimes you reflect and think that we attacked a little bit too quickly or sometimes you have games where you think that maybe we were a little bit too patient and we could have forced the issue a bit earlier.
“It’s always about finding that balance on the pitch and I think that’s why it’s important to have a really good understanding in the team, some experience in the team and a really good understanding of how we play.
“I think the more that grows and improves and develops then the more the players can feel the moments when it’s time to really accelerate the game and push and squeeze for a goal and when it’s also a moment of the game where we should control the game with the goal and dictate the game in the opposition’s half.
“These are things that we speak about constantly and we reflect on constantly with the group and it’s about finding that right balance in every game and obviously starting the game on Saturday is a really important area.”
McKenna says he has been pleased with the way his forward players have interacted in pre-season and during last week’s opening match.
“I think they've looked really good through pre-season, all the combinations that we have there,” he said.
“I think we've got six currently there at the moment in the three most forward positions in Freddie [Ladapo], Kayden [Jackson], Sone [Aluko], Conor [Chaplin], Marcus [Harness] and Tyreece [John-Jules] amongst others as well, but they’re probably the most natural fit for those slots who really complement each other well and all fit our style of play. All can be used interchangeably within games and can fill the roles very, very well.
“I think there are a lot of different combinations that we can look at with those players, and there are different ways we can use them in different games.
“But in general I think it's a strong front part to the team and I'm sure there are going to be good goals and assists in that group and good performances and helping the team win games.”
Christian Walton is all but certain to be in goal behind the familiar back three of Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson.
McKenna will have to decide whether he sticks with Leif Davis at left wing-back or brings in Greg Leigh, who impressed from the bench against Bolton. Davis could well get the nod with Leigh again playing a role as one of the five subs Town are now able to introduce. Wes Burns will be at right wing-back.
Skipper Sam Morsy will be joined in the centre of midfield by Lee Evans - Dominic Ball remains sidelined with his ankle problem - with Chaplin and Harness again likely to start as the number 10s with Aluko and John-Jules on as subs around the hour mark. Freddie Ladapo will be the lone out-and-out striker with Kayden Jackson another likely to be used from the bench.
Forest Green boss Burchnall says his club has earned the right to be facing traditionally more illustrious clubs such as Town.
“It’s a league fixture. We have every right to be playing Ipswich. We know they’re a very good team, but we deserve to be here,” Burchnall told GloucestershireLive.
“I think it’ll be a fast start. We’ll intend to start fast and I think they’ll try and match that. I watched their game against Bolton and it was full throttle from minute one and ours was against Bristol Rovers, so I don’t expect it to be too cagey.
“I don’t pay too much attention to the money. We know they should be at the top end of the league this season, so for us a great chance to see where we’re at.”
Burchnall believes his side will have to be wary of Blues striker Ladapo: “He’s a strong number nine, he can do a lot of different things. He can bring the ball in, he can run in behind and he’s a threat in the box. Absolutely he’s a good centre forward that we’re going to have to take care of.”
He added: “It’s a massive day for the club, a team with the calibre of Ipswich is coming to the New Lawn and we know they’re a top, top team in this division.”
It’s been a busy summer at Forest Green with 11 players coming in, the same number having departed.
This week, former Blues striker Connor Wickham has joined on a contract until January having left MK Dons after a short spell last season and young winger Sean Robinson has signed after leaving Crystal Palace.
Earlier in the summer they added Corey O'Keeffe (from Rochdale), Armani Little (Torquay), Alfie Burnett (Rotherham), David Davis (Shrewsbury), Kyle McAllister (St Mirren), Harry Boyes (on loan from Sheffield United), Reece Brown (Huddersfield), Oliver Casey (on loan from Blackpool) and Jacob Jones (Swansea).
Forest Green have left wing-back Boyes and forward Matty Stevens unavailable due to injury, but midfielder Little is expected to be fine despite missing training earlier in the week.
In their opening game, the Green won a local derby away against fellow League One new boys Bristol Rovers 2-1 Jordan Moore-Taylor and Regan Hendry netting their goals.
Blues wing-back Wes Burns spent a month on loan at Forest Green when a Bristol City player between March and April 2013, making five starts and one sub appearance, scoring once.
Former Town striker Connor Wickham moved to the New Lawn on Wednesday having left MK Dons at the end of last season.
Saturday’s referee is Craig Hicks, who showed 112 yellow cards and seven red cards in 36 games last season.
Hicks’s most recent Town match was the 1-0 home defeat to Cambridge United in April when he booked Woolfenden, Donacien, James Norwood, Macauley Bonne and three of the visitors.
The Surrey-based official was also in charge of last season’s opening day 2-2 draw at home to Morecambe in which he again booked Norwood, as well as Evans, Matt Penney and one of the visitors.
Hicks was also at Portman Road in May last year for the FA Youth Cup semi-final against Liverpool which Town’s U18s lost 2-1.
He also took control of the 0-0 draw at Charlton in April 2021 in which he booked Andre Dozzell and two Addicks.
Coincidentally, he was in charge of that season’s home game against the South Londoners in November 2020 in which he booked Stephen Ward, Alan Judge and one visiting player as Charlton won 2-0.
Hicks also refereed the 2-0 win at Bristol Rovers in September of the same year in which he yellow-carded Gwion Edwards, Norwood and two home players.
Prior to that he was the man in the middle for the 0-0 draw at AFC Wimbledon in February 2020 in which he booked Flynn Downes and one home player.
Before that he refereed another 0-0 draw, at home to Gillingham on Boxing Day 2019, in which he showed yellow cards to Judge, Edwards and Norwood and Toto Nsiala.
Hicks’s first competitive Town match was the Leasing.com Trophy tie with Tottenham’s U21s in September 2019 in which he showed just the one yellow card to one of the visitors.
Squad from: Walton, Hladky, Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Burgess, Burns, Vincent-Young, Leigh, Davis, Penney, Morsy (c), Evans, Humphreys, Harper, Aluko, Harness, Edwards, Chaplin, John-Jules, Ladapo, Jackson.
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