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McKenna: Great Options at the Back Now
Friday, 10th Nov 2023 15:51

Town boss Kieran McKenna believes he now has really good options at the centre of defence, Axel Tuanzebe having made his league debut for the Blues at Rotherham in midweek, but admits his side have conceded more goals than he would have liked in recent games.

Tuanzebe joined Town on a free at the start of September having been released by Manchester United and, after working on his fitness - the 25-year-old joined the club with a back problem - played for the Blues for the first time in the Carabao Cup defeat to Fulham before making his opening Championship appearance at the New York Stadium.

“We've got great options there now, I have to say,” McKenna said. “That's where we need to be all over the pitch, to be competing at the level that we're competing at.

“We want to have those options and that strength in every area. All four of the senior centre-halves now, obviously Axel's still building his way up, but now certainly you can say fit and getting stronger and Luke [Woolfenden] and Cameron [Burgess], who've played mostly games in the league, both performing really well.

“George [Edmundson] has performed really well this season and Elkan [Baggott], of course, underneath that has been excellent when he's had his opportunities.

“So we're in a really strong position in those areas and we're going to need that over the course of the season, and it's a good marker for where we want to get to.”

While Town have been free-scoring at one end, they have conceded rather more than they would have wanted at the other having shipped two in each of their last three league matches and 13 in their seven home fixtures, a total only surpassed by second-bottom QPR.

Asked if the number of goals conceded is something which is being assessed or whether it’s just a natural consequence of the front-foot manner in which McKenna wants his side to play, he added: “We analyse everything to be fair and we certainly want to be a positive, aggressive team and that means that times you have to defend big spaces if you want to be aggressive against the ball.

“But we never take any goal that we concede lightly and we never just accept that we're going to concede. We want to keep a clean sheet in every game, that's the base, but we've conceded a few more goals than we would have wanted. We’ve scored four more goals than anyone else in the division.

“You can't be perfect, certainly not in our situation. Not everything's going to go well all the time. I think before last Saturday we’d conceded two goals in seven away games, then we conceded two goals twice in two away games - an own goal, a wonder strike in the 91st minute. Birmingham's first goal had a big slice of fortune really with a mishit shot.

“We got caught cold in the goal in the first minute [at Rotherham], sometimes things just happen. We had it last season and sometimes you go through spells where teams shoot and things fly in the top corner or take deflections, or own goals go in.

“And then you have other spells where we've had great runs of clean sheets and the ball doesn’t go in our net for eight or nine games and if you asked what we were doing differently in those spells, the answer would be probably not very much.

“We're operating at a higher level with better players and better opposition and we're still trying to play a very brave style, so we're probably going to concede more goals than we did in League One.

“But sometimes football can be pretty random and you can not concede having given away quite a few chances and you concede goals in games where, such as in the last two, where I don't feel like we've given up very many chances, but we've conceded a few more goals.

“Sometimes these things come in cycles and we look go into the next game as we do every game, trying to be really good on and off the ball and keep a clean sheet and score more goals than them.”

Reflecting further on the last two matches, 2-2 draws at Birmingham and Rotherham, asked his overriding feelings after those games, he added: “I think that we have had Saturday and Tuesday away games in tough conditions with things going against you in the games as well, conceding from early moments in the games.

“There are huge positives to take there from the way that we stuck to it in both games and got a point in both games. Could have been more, in another world, it could have been less, but that's football. 

“So I think big positives to take and we're looking forward to being home now and playing in front of a full Portman Road in the last game of this block, I think our sixth game in the last 18 days, and giving it a real push to try and get a performance tomorrow.”

Photo: Matchday Images

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Bazza8564 added 16:30 - Nov 10
Interesting that KM still talks of Baggott "Under" the top 4 CB. I actually don't see it that way personally, and Im sure others will agree that he should be an equal now for Fridge, who's pace is lacking. Id love to see him given more bench time, especially now we are out of the Cup

Suffolkboy added 17:48 - Nov 10
EB looking to be a wonderful talent and great physical presence. : he’s likely to go far but maybe can also develop a wider range of skills to go with his undoubted talent !
Great news L COYB

Linkboy13 added 18:45 - Nov 10
When we get Burns, Williams back and Tuanzebe match fit i think you will see a much more solid team defensively. Possibly need a midfield grafter in the January transfer window to take the pressure off Morsy and Luongo.

Nutkins_Return added 19:05 - Nov 10
Bazza Elkin has high potential and high ceiling. He could hopefully go on to be class for us. But as per almost all young CBs, more than any other position, there is a steep learning curve. He had moments of quality at Gillingham but some real ups and downs in form. He's absolutely behind all our other CBs right now. I don't see that as a negative at all.

Also fridge isnt lacking in pace? Or at least I've never seen it that way. Quicker than. Burgess. I don't get the anti Fridge rhetoric. He's becoming a worse player in fans minds from having injuries. Fully fit he's a quality player.

MK1 added 20:24 - Nov 10
I think we have get options in all positions. The defence is certainly looking stronger option wise. Think our squad is just a few quality signings away from being equipped for promotion.

gosblue added 20:54 - Nov 10
I think CB is now one of our strongest positions along with GK and RB/RWB. I think we would struggle if Leif Davis, Sam Morsey or George Hirst got a lengthy injury.

PhuketPete added 02:14 - Nov 11
KM is going to have one eye on the Asian Cup and ACON in Jan/Feb when we could lose CamB, Mass and potentially Sam (though he could be less at risk / that said Sam is closing in on another suspension).

What might this mean? (1) I think we see much more of Axel - possibly even today alongside Luke. And (2) more of Jack T. Both guys would be absolutely key if Cam and Mass disappear for 4-6 weeks.

Either way we may need to get used to a less settled starting XI than we saw between Feb and Oct. Won’t be easy. Let’s hope the sickness bug going around has run it’s course and we stay lucky with injuries so KM doesn’t have to juggle things too much. I feel Rotherham was one enforced change too many on Tuesday…

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