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Ipswich Town 3 v 2 Southampton
SkyBet Championship
Monday, 1st April 2024 Kick-off 17:30
McKenna: One of the Games You Looked For at the Start of the Season
Sunday, 31st Mar 2024 12:39

Blues boss Kieran McKenna, whose side returned to the top of the Championship table via Saturday’s 1-0 win at Blackburn, says the meeting with Southampton, who visit Portman Road for Easter Monday’s live Sky game, was one of the matches he looked for at the start of the season (KO 5.30pm).

The Saints, who drew 1-1 at home to Middlesbrough on Good Friday, Boro netting in the final minute, visit Suffolk with their automatic promotion push faltering.

After a lacklustre start to the season, the Hampshire side went on a club-record 25-match all-competitions - 22 in the league - unbeaten run between September and February to put themselves firmly in the top-two hunt.

However, they lost three league matches in February but then won two before Friday’s draw with the Teessiders.

They are now fourth, 10 points behind the Blues at the top, nine off Leeds in second and eight away from Leicester in third.

Friday’s match was their first for three weeks following the international break and with their previously scheduled match away against the Foxes postponed due to the latter’s involvement in the FA Cup.

Due to that match and the Preston game having been called off due to a fire close to St Mary’s, Saints have two games in hand on the Blues and one on Leicester.

McKenna knows Russell Martin and his side will be looking to reignite their hopes of returning to the top flight after one season away automatically by beating the Blues.

“I think they’ll be looking to win the game, first and foremost, and so will we,” the Town manager said following Friday’s match at Ewood Park.

“I hope it’s going to be a great game. We want to take that challenge on. It’s one of the games you look at at the start of the season even in isolation, forget the league table, when you’re going to play the teams who are just down from the Premier League and who are stocked with that level of talent.

“I really enjoyed our games against Leeds and against Leicester at Portman Road this year, I have to say.

“I know we only managed to get a point out of the Leicester game but I thought they were two excellent performances where the players and the supporters really represented the club and did the club proud, really.

“I think that’s what we’ll aim for on Saturday. We can’t guarantee anything more than that. We’ll aim to deliver a performance in our identity and I’m sure the supporters will deliver a fantastic atmosphere and if we do those things, we’ll give ourselves a chance to get a result.”

Town’s 1-0 win at Southampton in September, courtesy of Omari Hutchinson’s first senior goal, their fourth away victory in their first four matches on the road, was a confidence booster for the Blues, particularly as Town weren’t at full strength.

“It was a really good game for us,” McKenna recalled. “A midweek game, which is always a challenge, midweek away from home, and we were missing players as well.

“I think Jack [Taylor], maybe Omari, Brandon [Williams], it was maybe the first league game that they came into, so a couple of big changes.

“It showed where we were at as a squad and what we were going to need right through the season with people coming in and contributing. I thought we played well and just about deserved to win.

“I think most people would probably say Southampton have improved since then and put together a club record [run] for themselves, so we know we’re going to face a really good team and we can’t take too much from the first game, and we know that this is going to be a fresh 90 minutes and that’s what we’ll be getting ready for.”

McKenna says there are some similarities between the sides’ approaches: “I think both teams try and be dominant in the game and be the proactive in the game, probably in slightly different ways.

“Our identity was mostly formed in League One, this year we have to show different sides of ourselves to try and win games with where we’re at.

“I think for Southampton in this league, they can express their identity through almost every game because of the quality that they have. They’re also a very well-coached team who look to dominate the ball in every game, and they do that really well.

“We know that we’ll be aggressive in the game, we’ll try and impose ourselves, we’ll go toe-to-toe with the opponent like we do in every game, but we also know we’re going to have to defend really well, we’re going to have to be organised, we’re going to have to suffer at times and we’re going to have to show a real array of qualities.”

The game sees the division’s two top scorers meet, the Blues having netted 81 times and the Saints on 74 occasions.

Town’s goals have mainly come at home - 53 - where there have been a number of 4-3s and 3-2s, while Monday’s visitors have scored 28 games on their travels, coincidentally the same as the Blues, with six teams have bagged more.

Only five teams have conceded fewer goals away than Southampton, 23, among them Town, 21.

McKenna was asked, given the teams’ respective potency, whether he anticipated a goal-fest on Monday.

“Let’s see,” he reflected. “It’s not like we go out trying to win 4-3 or 3-2, we go out and try and impose ourselves in the game, for sure.

“We try and play bravely but we’ll try and defend really well as well and be organised when we have the ball and be organised when we don’t have the ball.

“I know we’re not going to take too many backwards steps, we’re going to go and try and be aggressive in the game, like we do against everyone and I’m sure they’ll try and be positive as well. It’s going to be two really good teams and let’s see how the game pans out.”

McKenna may look to make one or two changes of personnel so soon after such a gruelling second half at Blackburn and with a number of players having been laid low with illness last week.

Vaclav Hladky will be in goal with Leif Davis, who was one of the players who was unwell with flu last week, at left-back as long as he is over the effects of the illness. Axel Tuanzebe seems likely to be on the right with Harry Clarke another who had been under the weather.

At the centre of the defence alongside Luke Woolfenden, Cameron Burgess seems likely to return for George Edmundson, despite the former Rangers man impressing against Rovers.

The Australian international was left out at Ewood Park having only returned to the UK on Wednesday evening after internationals in Sydney and Canberra against Lebanon during the break.

In central midfield, McKenna could look to make a change alongside skipper Sam Morsy with Massimo Luongo often not playing two games when they’re in such close proximity. If so, Taylor would come into the side, while loanee Lewis Travis will be back in the squad having been ineligible against his parent club on Friday.

Thirteen-goal top scorer Conor Chaplin seems set to keep his place in the centre of the trio in front of the double pivot and although McKenna has options if he wants to make changes in the wide roles, it seems likely Nathan Broadhead and Hutchinson will start before being replaced by the likes of Jeremy Sarmiento and Kayden Jackson in the second half.

Kieffer Moore will be the lone central striker with Ali Al-Hamadi again likely to replace the Wales international at some stage around or after the hour mark.

Saints boss Martin, a former Norwich City player, is looking for his team to react to their setback against Boro.

“I hope we can use the frustration we feel to help us on Monday,” Martin told his club’s official website.

“It’s a huge game, it’s an exciting game. We have nine games left, I don’t think anything’s really changed in terms of how many games we need to win, but it’s one game ticked off, obviously.

“It’s an amazing game to go into on the back of this one and the frustration we’re all feeling.

“I have no doubt again we’ll be written off, but I think as the earlier result showed with Leicester, the end of the season does funny things to people.

“There’s so much to be pleased about with this performance, but to be really annoyed and angry about the result, and hopefully we can use that feeling on Monday.”

Elsewhere, third-placed Leicester are in action against Norwich City at 12.30pm, while Leeds in second are at home to Hull City in the day's 8pm kick-off with both games live on Sky Sports.

Historically, the Blues have the edge having won 26 games against Southampton (25 in the league), losing 23 (17) and with 20 (19) ending in draws.

Town had gone eight games without a win against the Saints going back to November 2007 until September’s 1-0 victory at St Mary’s.

Hutchinson’s first goal for the Blues on his full league debut saw Town to the three points and back up to second in the Championship.

The on-loan Chelsea man struck on the half hour as the Blues maintained their brilliant start to the season.

The teams last met at Portman Road in an FA Cup third-round replay in January 2015 when Shane Long’s 19th-minute goal was enough to see Southampton through to the next round. Town never looked like getting back into the game against an impressive Saints outfit.

The most recent league meeting at Portman Road was during Southampton’s 2011/12 Championship-promotion season when Paul Jewell’s Town fell to their third home defeat in a week as the Saints - in their first season back in the second tier having won promotion from League One - ran out 5-2 victors.

The Saints were 3-0 in front at the break through Rickie Lambert (2) and David Connolly, however, Town fought back to 3-2 via Keith Andrews and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, but Adam Lallana added two more late on to seal a deserved victory.

Southampton’s squad includes a number of ex-Town players, most notably the on-loan Flynn Downes, who came through the academy and made 75 starts and 24 sub appearances, scoring three times before moving on to Swansea in the summer of 2021 for an initial £1.4 million with the Blues receiving another £1.5 million following the midfielder’s £8 million move to his current parent club West Ham the following summer.

Keeper Alex McCarthy spent time on loan at Town in the second half of 2011/12, making 10 appearances and impressing after a difficult start having been red-carded in his third game, a 3-1 defeat at former loan club Leeds.

Winger Ryan Fraser was with the Blues during the 2015/16 season, scoring six times in 15 starts and five sub appearances before injury curtailed his spell.

Full-back James Bree was on loan at Town in the second half of the 2018/19 season making 13 starts and one sub appearance.

Saints full-back Ryan Manning came close to joining the Blues as an academy scholar but ultimately opted to sign for QPR.

Southampton's assistant manager is Matt Gill, who was first-team coach under Paul Lambert and stayed on for the first few months of Paul Cook's tenure before departing in the summer of 2021 after just under three years at the club.

Monday’s referee is Premier League official Michael Salisbury, who has shown 62 yellow cards and two red in 19 games this season.

Preston-based Salisbury, whose father is long-serving EFL referee Graham Salisbury, will be taking charge of his first Championship game this season and his first ever Town match.

Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Burgess, Morsy (c), Luongo, Taylor, Travis, Ball, Chaplin, Harness, Jackson, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Broadhead, Moore, Al-Hamadi.

Photo: TWTD

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bobble added 12:57 - Mar 31
4-2 to us

Dissboyitfc added 14:14 - Mar 31
like your thinking bobble!

fifeblue added 14:41 - Mar 31
Let's finish off their challenge. 8-0 to Town.

Saxonblue74 added 15:01 - Mar 31
Chance to make it a 3 horse race. Will need to be far better than the Good Friday performance.

irishtim added 16:19 - Mar 31
If we win this, then i think we will go up.

LegendofthePhoenix added 16:24 - Mar 31
I saw us thrash Saint 7-0 at PR, and 3-0 at St Mary's. We've got this, bring it on.

ArnieM added 20:18 - Mar 31
Come in Town, let’s do this. Get it over the line, and PLEASE Town fans let’s once again do our bit and make it an uncomfortable place for Saints to be tomorrow.

TimmyH added 21:13 - Mar 31
Any other circumstance I'd say a draw would be good but a win will make it practically 3 teams hunting for the automatics. Personally feel although we beat them early in the season when they struggled to get going I never like us playing a side with a Norwich influence.

IpswichT62OldBoy added 21:47 - Mar 31
5 2 all our goals scored by Alan Brazil

warktheline added 07:57 - Apr 1
It’s already a 3 horse race for automatic promotion, Southampton don’t have the points on the table, that’s what matters at this stage of the season…games in hand etc aren’t points! The bigger picture is we’ve by far overachieved and now have a chance of obtaining another promotion, without even mentioning the play offs! Leicester have been ‘cruising/ freewheeling ’ for quite some time without really applying themselves, our 2 draws against them are testament to that! It’s extremely difficult to regain that momentum of winning and currently Leicester look ‘vulnerable’ ….interesting day ahead! There’s still plenty of twists and turns to unfold before the end of season!

Nomore4 added 08:26 - Apr 1
I don’t think we’ve overachieved anything. We belong were we are.
I predicted top 2 pre season that’s how we’ll finish.

warktheline added 09:59 - Apr 1
@Nomore4, I predicted a play off spot…so well done you for visualising where we currently sit in the championship! I have to totally disagree with your ‘not overachieving’…the bigger picture is we in and amongst last season’s Premiership teams! Comparing our players with Leicester, Leeds and Southampton is laughable! McKenna and the players he’s used to get where we are today is ‘overachieving’….and it’s very blasé to suggest otherwise! Are you seriously suggesting McKenna isn’t being touted as a manager for his management skills and maximising the resources available to him? Again well done for your prediction thus far!

Nomore4 added 10:19 - Apr 1
Not visualising Walktheline…. We became a very good Championship squad January 2023.
And became a top 6 championship squad in the Summer 2023.
The window of January 2024 propelled us to top 2 championship standard. The results throughout this period proves the above IMO. Barely needed 10 fingers to count the defeats throughout this time.

Nomore4 added 10:24 - Apr 1
In fact the only people banging on about us overachieving is Sky Tv….

pensionerblue added 10:28 - Apr 1
This has the appearance of being a high scoring game with both teams likely to leak goals. Our fans could well be the deciding factor and with the usual support behind the team we are well capable of getting the 3 points.

dirtydingusmagee added 10:31 - Apr 1
i have it from reliable source that when we get to 5-0 KM will bring on Ed Sheeran up front , as he hasnt had a run out yet,

Len_Brennan added 10:42 - Apr 1
We are completely overachieving; the measure being squad strength & depth. The 3 sides relegated from the Premier League have numerous experienced Premier League players; we don't. These 3 are not just any regular yo-yo relegated sides either; they are far stronger than Sheffield Utd, Burnley & (probably) Luton will be next season.
Add in the club still in receipt of parachute payments, still with some experienced Premier League players & some top Championship players signed from less well over Championship clubs, and you see how up against it we were this season.
But we have a great manager, who has instilled incredible belief into a squad of players who mostly were unsung even at Championship level before the season started. Prior to them joining us, were even Morsy, Luongo, Chaplin, Broadhead, Hirst or Davis seen as TOP Championship players? Kieffer Moore may have played in the Premier League alright, but we had been overachieving for quite some time before he came in to help.

Nomore4 added 11:06 - Apr 1
Agree Len Brennan. My points being the fantastic signings that have been made over 2 and a bit years.
Big money players, with Premier League experience don’t guarantee anything.
Liverpool have a right back who played in L1 last season. Man Utd,s best player currently…wasn’t playing men’s football 6 months ago. Parachute payments guarantee nothing.
We have a better squad than Leicester, Leeds and Southampton. The league table proves that point.

Nomore4 added 11:08 - Apr 1
I don’t call it overachieving….I call it evolving.

gosblue added 12:02 - Apr 1
If we go up automatically, I would love to see Saints go up via the play-offs. Saints are probably the nicer of the three clubs that came down. Our target must now be the league title. Today’s results could make it a mathematical certainty that we finish in the top four and more importantly, above Norwich. 4-3 Town. COYB

warktheline added 12:29 - Apr 1
Nomore4, how would you interpret our performances against Leeds and Leicester? Zero points and conceded 8 against Leeds and Leicester totally dominated us in both games but failed to capitalise on their superiority! There’s a gulf between our players and the two I’ve mentioned. McKenna has overcome this by maximising points with rest of teams in the league. It’s not just sky pundits….I remember Warnock remarking that Leicester could field two teams that would finish top 6….and on Warnock and other managers, many have complimented Mckenna’s achievements over the past two and a bit season's. And continually remarked ‘over achieving with the tools he has at his disposal’….

warktheline added 13:08 - Apr 1
…yeah it would be something special to get promoted…but this team wouldn’t cope at the next level! The club would have to evolve plenty on the field of play to compete! There’s also the viable factors…for instance losing McKenna to another club! It’s been an amazing journey but there’s crossroads that will need navigating sooner than some may think!

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