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Luongo: We've Got to Stick With It
Sunday, 4th Feb 2024 09:57 by Kallum Brisset

Town midfielder Massimo Luongo says the squad need to stick to the principles which have brought them so much success this season, despite the Blues’ 3-2 defeat to Preston North End at Deepdale yesterday.

Kieffer Moore’s two second-half goals proved not enough to claw back the deficit inflicted by a Will Keane brace and a George Edmundson own goal by half-time, leaving Town with just one win in their last eight league games.

Despite coming out on the wrong side of the scoreline, Luongo believes an improved second half showed how the Blues need to keep working on their principles that has seen them lose only four league games so far this campaign.

“It was a bit of a sucker punch,” he said. “Looking back at it, maybe we were half a yard off on transitions and stuff like that, hence the two goals.

“The boss said we weren’t far off it, we were playing some good stuff and doing the right things on the ball. We lost it in areas where we were probably a bit vulnerable on the counter and then they made us pay and we got punished for it.

“Going forward, we were still trying to do the same thing. We came out both times, I remember we had a good spell of possession then we lost the ball and suddenly we’re 2-0 down.

“But we didn’t stop, it’s hard coming here anyway but being 2-0 down makes it even tougher. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, don’t bring any negative vibes and keep pushing.”

After a disastrous first period, the Blues found themselves 3-0 down at half-time, but Luongo says the strong mentality in the group was clear to see with Kieran McKenna’s side still believing they could get back into the game.

He said: “It felt like at 2-0 we were well in the game. We thought if we get one this side of the half then we can push on. You’ve seen plenty of games where you score just before the half and then the momentum is with you.

“I felt like we were in that situation, we were creating good things it was just our final third stuff was a bit off today. There were a few bobbles in the wrong areas, I remember getting one that bobbled at my knee and lost the ball. But the belief was there after the second goal, for sure.

“On the ball it wasn’t a tough game, they did well tactically but I felt like we could have opened them up a bit better. We were on the verge of doing that and then the third goal came and we thought let’s get in at half-time, figure it out, change a few things and go more attacking.”

The introduction of Moore for his second debut for the club came at the interval. The Bournemouth loanee made an instant impact, causing the Preston defence all sorts of problems due to his aerial presence.

“We started the second half really well,” Luongo said. “Kieffer came on and suddenly we’ve got another option going forwards.

“When we’re wide, we haven’t used that stand-up ball for the first goal a lot and then suddenly he adds that aspect to our game, so that was definitely a breath of fresh air when he came on.

“He just offers something different that we haven’t had. It takes a little while to get used to, our crosses probably change a little bit as we’re used to a cutback and now he’s probably got a metre of headspace that we can hit instead of picking someone out perfectly on the eye of a needle.

“It maybe takes two or three players out of the game as well because they have to worry about him, and the rest of us can do what we need to do.”

Ali Al-Hamadi was another January recruit who was brought on for his debut, after signing from AFC Wimbledon on Monday.

Of the Iraq international striker, Luongo said: “He’s a great lad, they’re both good lads coming in. Ali looks powerful, he’s got an eye for goal and just wants to get forward.

“His running forward with intent is refreshing because he doesn’t know what type of players we are, but he’s making them runs and decisions for us, and Kieffer does the same.
“It just adds something different to what we’ve already been good at.”

McKenna is not the kind of manager to give the proverbial hairdryer treatment in the dressing room. Instead, the Town boss is methodical in his approach and understands the game plan might not be working and does not reflect on the players.

“It was calm because we were doing everything we were supposed to be doing,” Luongo said on the mood at the break. “We work on something the whole week and we did it.

“We didn’t execute it in the final third as well but they defended well with a game plan and it didn’t work out.

“Our reactions and decision-making on the day could have been better when we lost the ball, but ultimately that’s part of the game.

“Another time it hits the post and we go on and win the game or maybe someone makes a good tackle or the deflection from Fridge [George Edmundson] doesn’t come off as big as it did.

“It’s margins, but you’re not going to get many margins at Deepdale so we’ve got to make sure we’re on it the whole game.”

While the Blues have been strong at coming from behind in matches this season, a three-goal deficit proved too much for Town to overturn. They have also conceded the most goals in division in the opening 15 minutes.

Luongo says fine margins play their part, but admitted the Blues need to start games stronger to avoid giving themselves more work to do.

“We’ve all seen the stats of how good we are at getting back into games,” the 31-year-old said. “I think we’re all sick of that, we just need to keep going in games and don’t give ourselves a mountain to climb.

“It’s a tough one because we want to play our way, do what we want to do and the manager has a way of playing.

“There’s parts where the margins are small and, if we get it right, we open teams up and look really good. But when you get it wrong or there’s a decision to be made, whether it be a tackle, get back, block the middle, if we don’t get it right we paid the price today.

“It’s fine margins but we can only do what we do on the pitch. On a gameday, you can’t call it and no-one knows what’s going to happen. As long as we keep doing the right things, we’re honest, the effort’s there, then we’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the game.”

Preston caused Town all sorts of problems in the first half and their intense was difficult for the Blues to deal with.

Luongo likened it to earlier games this season where Town have struggled in, but says it is important that the team avoid changing the way they play and believe in what they are doing.

“We’ve had it a few times,” he said. “West Brom was a big one, this one, Leeds, It’s tough. You see the Leicester game, we kept trying to play and ultimately we got the goal and almost got the winner from it.

“Do you not do it, change it up and play a foreign way? You don’t do that. We’ve just got to stick with it and get on the training pitch and work on the ways that, when it doesn’t go right like day, you can counteract or balance that.

“Maybe our positioning off the ball could have been better and we’ll analyse it and take it into the next game. That’s all we can do.”

Defeat sees Town slip to fourth in the Championship table, two points behind Southampton in the final automatic promotion place following victories for the Saints and Leeds United this weekend.

There has been external talk surrounding the form of those two sides compared with that of the Blues, but Luongo stressed that the team will continue to block out the outside noise as they have done throughout the season.

He said: “We never go into a game thinking we need a win because of where we are, or we need to open the gap or so-and-so’s behind us. We go into the game with a game plan and a way of playing.

“The manager and coaching staff have done an incredible job to get us where we are and playing how we are. It makes it a lot easier on a matchday as he takes all of the pressure off us and we’ve just got to implement what he wants us to do and what we’ve been practicing.

“And we do that, but the other teams aren’t going to roll over and let us do it, they obviously make it a big challenge but we’ve just got to keep going.

“The support has been great, today was amazing. They appreciate the comeback, obviously they don’t want to see us 3-0 down at half-time. But if you watch that game you see we had fight, we were desperate to get back in and we played some good stuff.

“We never worry about what people say, we just get our head down and worry about next Saturday.”

It was announced this week that Lee Evans will leave the club as a free agent following his rehabilitation from a knee injury that the Welshman picked up in September.

Luongo highlighted the contribution his fellow midfielder made in the Blues’ promotion from League One last season and says whoever he goes on to sign for will be stronger for it.

“Evo’s brilliant, I’m really close to Evo,” he said. “He’s had horrible luck with his injuries but every time he’s had one his recovery has been strong and kept his head down.

“He’s worked so hard to get back and unfortunately it’s happened again but he’s doing the same thing. The boys love him and we all wish him all the best.

“He’s with us for a little bit longer so it’s not a complete goodbye, but he knows what he’s got to do and we all back him.

“When he’s fit, he’s a top player. Before I came, he was a big player for the team and unfortunately he got injured. No-one forgets about the boys that aren’t here anymore and what they’ve done for the club. He was a big part of the promotion team.”

Photos: TWTD/Matchday Images

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Broadbent23 added 10:14 - Feb 4
Town have done remarkably well to reach this point. With the ex prem teams on the march we have to find the X factor to get back to second place. Believe and it is possible.

tractorboybig added 10:49 - Feb 4
Lets hope that the principle of conceding give away early goals is kicked into touch

Lightningboy added 11:00 - Feb 4
Agree that we should stick with our principals - But If Morsy keeps running back into his 18 yard box with a player breathing down his neck then Vas should kick the ball to another player or launch it up field..surely?....What we were doing yesterday at times was insane.

We're more than capable of getting the ball forward without having to do it this way every time.

Baino added 11:00 - Feb 4
We have done remarkably well, as @Broadbent23 says. If we were offered top 4 at the beginning of the season I'm confident most of us would more than delighted with that, particularly where we've come from in a short space of time.
And I feel that's important. I see really negative comments starting to appear and I scratch my head at them. I get that we're going through a tough period, I get it's frustrating given the season we've had to this point and we do need to capitalise on that position from that grrat form but it takes a monumental effort for a club promoted from L1 to keep up with those that have come down from the prem over 46 games.
Having said all of that, we shouldn't let fact that we've come up from L1 be an excuse either and hold us back, I'm not saying it should, and I feel after the January window business, which was good in my opinion, we can and probably should kick on again. My basic point is, let's just enjoy the ride, whatever that brings, support the boys, bring the positivity.
Next season, should we not go up this season which again I'll say would be a monumental effort to be promoted two seasons on the trot, next season we'll be season more experienced in this league and we will challenge again, or of course we may be in the Premier League and that means our club is in a fantastic place despite the challenging period we're currently experiencing, let's not press any panic buttons.

joyousblue added 11:42 - Feb 4
Not much to add just 4 brilliant observations no knocking our players no doom and gloom thankyou baino lightningboy tractorboybig and broadbent 23 i salute you

Orraman added 11:49 - Feb 4
With Brandon Williams apparently returning soon that should strengthen our defence as he surely must replace Harry Clarke. Burgess is back too while the vast experience of Moore should see him excel in Championship. First impressions of Al Hamadi look promising and certainly more to come from Sarmiento and Hutchinson. As they all gel into an evolving team we can now hope that the current loss of form of Burns, Chaplin and Broadhead is surely temporary and that we can now go on another climax to the season.

Bert added 12:10 - Feb 4
Totally agree with Lightningboy. Opposition players know that Morsy wants to receive the ball from Vas but sometimes that pass is not on so don’t do it.

finidi added 12:17 - Feb 4
We are caught on the break far too often perhaps we need someone who just sits in front of the back four to protect the defence. We didn't trouble the keeper hardly at all in first half Alex Mathie reckoned we were two yards off the pace. I have also noticed our build up very slow at times. But now we have a giant let's go long for a change let's get back to the 70,s Joe Jordon Ron Daies Mark Hately,

mathiemagic added 13:06 - Feb 4
The first two goals should not have stood and had VAR been in operation they would have been chalked off. That aside, we were very poor first half, I dont know where McKenna gets his "We were not far off it first half" from ? - Miles off it would have been more accurate. Second half was much better but too little too late sadly. If Moore does not start up top against the Baggies I will be gobsmacked. Were still in a great position though but I fear that the lack of defensive signings will eventually cost us.

SickParrot added 14:27 - Feb 4
The principle of retaining possession with a keeper passing the ball to a team mate instead of launching the ball is obviously a good thing but you can't do it all the time unless you have two or three players who are comfortable to receive the ball against the press. We are so dependent on Morsy receiving the first or second ball that our opponents know where the ball is going. We need to keep our opponents guessing by going long sometimes and now that we have Moore up front we can do that, because Hladky's kicking is good enough to find him.

KMcBlue added 15:00 - Feb 4
I disagree. We need a plan B for when teams are nullifying our 'principles'.. Obviously....!

bobble added 04:13 - Feb 5
never be afraid to boot the ball out of danger rather than give a colleague a suicide pass....

gpstracker added 08:02 - Feb 5
The 'principles'' need to be executed a lot lot quicker.

tetchris added 09:21 - Feb 5
Build up play is too slow. Keep knocking it about at the back but not actually getting anywhere!

Radlett_blue added 10:05 - Feb 5
THe "half a yard off it" is what concerns me. At this level, where most of the opposition will come at us & press hard, we need to be right on it from the word go. Consistency is what achieves a good league position.

Suffolkboy added 11:35 - Feb 5
Lots and lots of honest common sense from M L ; we do seem slothful at the beginning of games — but long standing supporters will probably recall similar critique from years ago!
Certainly we ought never to become so predictable that it puts us under ‘immediate’ opposition pressure ,but as ML indicates there are several options open to counteract . Against Preston it’s exceptionally difficult to reason why VH elected to pass to a nearby man under pressure ,and failed to assess the whole picture !
Nevertheless such will not have been overlooked and the training ground will reveal only positives during the week !
We’ve done wonderfully well ; exceeded expectations and produced most attractive football from a team and individuals relishing the progress and learning under a superb Management team !
A great deal to be proud of !

SamWhiteUK added 12:03 - Feb 5
We have scored WAY more goals playing out from the back than we have conceded. The comments about not doing it quick enough are, in the main, baseless and ignorant. I count two goals in two years conceded from playing the way we play.

runningout added 12:14 - Feb 5
we’ve almost forgot what losing is like. It’s a better trait to continue winning of course, but heyho.

JewellintheTown added 12:16 - Feb 5
I think we need to know when an opposition has sussed & nullified us & have an immediate plan B which mixes it up a bit to throw the opposition off.
Sticking to one plan staunchly without an alternative ends up with results like Saturdays first half. 2nd half seems was that plan, but lessons learnt hopefully for the next match.

blueboy1981 added 16:53 - Feb 5
Too much Tippy Tappy stuff in Dangerous areas - and our Defenders are not good enough to play that game.
We would get slaughtered in the Premiership - we resembled Monty Python’s Grounded Circus first half against Preston (not Liverpool, Arsenal, Man’ City, etc; ) not to mention others !
Defence has to improve.

Dissboyitfc added 06:56 - Feb 7
Agree with Blueboy, we would get severely beaten in the premier league with the players we have! Lets enjoy this season though, which in fairness has been pretty amazing.

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