Evans: McKenna is A Top, Top Manager and Probably the Best We've All Played For
Tuesday, 26th Sep 2023 06:00
Lee Evans has added his voice to the chorus of praise for manager Kieran McKenna following last season’s League One automatic promotion success and the red-hot start Town have made to life in the Championship.
The experienced midfielder has only played a handful of minutes of first-team football in the league this season, following his introduction from the bench in the 89th minute of the memorable 3-2 win over Cardiff City at Portman Road earlier this month.
But despite his frustration at the lack of playing time, which he shares with several senior colleagues, Evans has been a model professional in accepting the situation for what it is, while also captaining the side to Carabao Cup victories over Bristol Rovers and Reading that have set up tonight’s visit of Premier League side Wolves in the third round of the competition.
Asked about McKenna and the incredible turnaround in Town’s fortunes he has masterminded since taking charge in December 2021, Evans said: “It’s probably not normal what he has done as a young manager in less than two years in the job, both the promotion last season and now the way we have started back in the Championship. I’m not sure we can say anything more than what has already been said about him.
“He’s a top, top manager and probably for all the players the best they have ever played for. He makes our roles in the team really clear to us and he has got everyone buying into the system and working 100 per cent towards it. We have made a fantastic start to the season and long may it continue.”
Does he now view the game differently after working with McKenna? “Definitely,” he said unhesitatingly. “The main thing for me is how he makes each player’s role as simple as possible.
“All the players, from the goalkeeper through to the strikers, know their role and what is expected of them once they step on to the pitch. You go out with no doubts and everything clear to you, which means you know exactly what your job is.
“The training is absolutely brilliant, with different sessions every day depending on the opposition for the next game, and the thing about them is that they always flow.
“In terms of intensity, his training sessions are definitely the most demanding I have ever experienced in my career. He expects you to work every bit as hard in training as you work on matchday.
“The manager oversees everything and the coaches take different parts of the session. As a midfielder, we do work with Chas [Charlie Turnbull, head of analysis] as well, but most of it is with the manager. He has been great for the club and all the players.”
Evans could face competition for the role of captain this evening because regular skipper Sam Morsy will serve a one-game ban for collecting five yellow cards when Town travel to Yorkshire at the weekend to face lowly Huddersfield, who are now managed by ex-Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore following the departure last week of Neil Warnock.
McKenna made 11 changes for each of the earlier Carabao Cup clashes, but even if he exercises the option of using both Morsy and Evans in the engine room, the latter is not going to be too concerned if it means he is not also given the role of captain.
Evans admitted: “I don’t think I’m too different as a player when I’m captain to how I am normally. Having the armband doesn’t make me a different player and I’m not a massive shouter or screamer, so that’s not part of how I lead on the pitch.
“I’m a 100 per cent type of player, all in and giving everything for the shirt, and that will never change, whether I’m captain or not. I like to lead by example.”
Asked if this evening’s game presents him with an extra incentive to impress and stake his claim to replace Morsy at the weekend, Evans added: “I’m not really looking any further than tonight’s game against Wolves. That’s all I am looking at for the time being, to try to play as well as I can if I’m selected to play against Wolves and the rest will take care of itself.”
But he agreed he would welcome the chance to add to his meagre tally of league minutes in the current campaign, adding: “Yes, of course I would. I haven’t had too many this season but that’s credit to the boys who are playing at the minute and, when we’ve won seven out of eight league games, I can’t be bashing the manager’s door down to say I should be playing.
“I’ve just got to keep training well, working hard on the things I need to do and hope that my time will come eventually.
“The big squads have been one of the game's major changes over the years, as is the fact that we now have nine subs sitting on the bench and five of them able to come on.
“People know they can give 100 per cent and they can tap in and out of the game, especially the front players who are massive for us on our press.
“It’s definitely a squad game these days and it’s up to the boys who are not in the starting line-up to train as well as they can and be ready when the manager needs us.
“Overall, it’s a very positive dressing room and the boys are flying after the result on Saturday. It was a very entertaining game against Blackburn and we have made a fantastic start to the season, one that we would have bitten off your hand to have before a ball was kicked.”
Meanwhile, Evans is one of several senior pros at Portman Road who are currently working towards gaining their early coaching qualifications, with the players’ union, the PFA, taking to social media recently to confirm that it is unusual for so many current players at one club to have embarked on such courses at the same time.
Evans said: “We did a lot of it last season and it took my mind off the fact that I was out injured for a while. It’s something I want to look into and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.
“It seems to be almost unique that so many players at one club are doing their coaching badges, but we are all enthusiastic about doing it and it’s another good thing about this club. It just shows that so many people are in a positive frame of mind right now.”
Asked how it felt to be back in the classroom, Evans chuckled and owned up: “I’m not too big a fan of that side of it. I love being out on the grass so I’d rather be out there coaching, but I realise there’s more to it than that and it’s gone well so far.
“I’m not too sure if I want to be a manager in the future; it’s just about doing my coaching badges and seeing where it goes from there when my playing career is over.
“You never know in this game when things might change and, fingers crossed, I still hope I’ve got a hell of a long time as a player in me. I’m as fit as I’ve ever been, I’m 29 years of age and in my prime, so I hope to be playing for a while. But there’s a few things to think about when the football finally comes to an end.”
Photo: Matchday Images
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