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Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna pleased with all-round performance in victory against Birmingham City

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna said he was happy with all aspects of the Blues’ performance as they beat Birmingham City 3-1 at Portman Road.

Conor Chaplin gave Town the lead with his 11th goal of the season - drawing him level at the top of the club’s goal charts with Nathan Broadhead - then after Jordan James had levelled for the visitors in first-half injury time, subs Jeremy Sarmiento and Omari Hutchinson scored on 81 and two minutes into injury time to seal a deserved three points.

“I thought it was a really good performance, I have to say. I enjoyed it and I was pleased with almost all aspects, really,” McKenna said.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was pleased to see his side raise their performance levels at Portman Road to see off Birmingham City Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was pleased to see his side raise their performance levels at Portman Road to see off Birmingham City Picture: Barry Goodwin

“I thought we were really good off the ball, aggressive against a really good footballing team, gave them very few opportunities to grow any sort of confidence in the game.

“We attacked well, had a threat through the game but also found control in the right moments, control in an appropriately patient second half.

“Physically we looked good, we looked like we had recovered well from the Tuesday night game, we looked fit and fresh and I thought our mentality was excellent.

Conor Chaplin moved to joint top Ipswich Town goalscorer following opener against Birmingham City Picture: Barry Goodwin
Conor Chaplin moved to joint top Ipswich Town goalscorer following opener against Birmingham City Picture: Barry Goodwin

“One, the approach to the game but, two, the response to what could have been a big setback just before half-time after such a good first-half performance to go in at 1-1, but we bounced back really well. All in all a really good performance, a deserved three points and a good day.”

The Blues boss was pleased with the way his team dealt with the frustration of the equaliser just before the break after dominating the first half.

“I thought we did that really well,” he reflected. “It would have been easy to be very disappointed at half-time with the setback of the goal that was so against the flow. But we didn’t [show any signs of that] and the second half was a different game.

“Birmingham changed their shape, went with a pressing frontline of one, marked Samy [Morsy] and Mass [Luongo] and pretty much man-marked Conor Chaplin as well, and tried to make it a lot more difficult for us to play through them.

“We had to show a lot more patience, work hard to create our opportunities and I thought we showed really good control, felt a real sense of belief on the pitch that the players knew that if they kept doing the right things that we’d have a couple of big opportunities and have the chance to go and win the game.”

Town took their total of goals from subs in the Championship to 18 via Sarmiento and Hutchinson, more than any other side in the EFL, and not far off a third of the Blues’ overall total of 68.

“A wonderful stat, one of my favourites, I have to say, because we had it last year last year, a similar stat,” McKenna continued.

“I think it reflects so well on so many things, but the primary thing it reflects well on is the culture in the group.

“Everyone in that squad’s full commitment to the team, ready to play whenever required and substitutes who are fully engaged in the game and ready to come on and fully understand the roles in the system, and also the state of the game and what’s required.

“I think those things reflect really, really well when you score as many goals as we have off the bench and we’ve done it for a good period of time now.”

McKenna had praise for Axel Tuanzebe, who had a solid game defensively, while also laying on Sarmiento’s goal with his first touch in the opposition penalty area in open play.

“He timed it well!” McKenna laughed. “I thought he played really well, a big positive for him, a big positive for the squad.

“I thought he performed his defensive duties excellently but I thought his distribution and his composure on the ball was good.

“He showed in the Stoke game when he played there as well that he’s got the athleticism to get up to affect it at the top end of the pitch and I think it’s a position we feel like he can play and he can play very well in, and I’m delighted for him that it managed it today and hopefully he can push on from that one.”

After the game Omari Hutchinson was asked for the dressing room reaction to the news that fourth-placed Southampton had lost 2-1 at Millwall.

However, the on-loan Chelsea man wasn’t aware of the score, illustrating the point that McKenna has made on a number of occasions that Town are concentrating only on their own matches.

“It’s a good thing too because if we didn’t and we focused on the opposition and points, we’d probably be disappointed sitting here because we know in any other season, we’re already in an incredible position, but the look of the table would look different in any other year,” the Town boss said.

“There’s none of that, I can tell there’s no energy in the group, no focus on the game that happened last night, who won [second-placed Leeds beat leaders Leicester 3-1 at Elland Road] and certainly not on any other games that are going on, [nothing] other than trying to perform.

“I think that’s what the players are really pleased with today, I think it’s the performance, I genuinely do.

“When we perform like that, the players take great confidence, great belief in how we’re working and know we’re on the right track and ultimately it will lead to some good places.”

Town are now on 72 points, three more than Sunderland managed in their first season in the Championship last season to secure sixth and a play-off place.

“We don’t want to pause and stop too much because we want to get some more points on the board and get as many as we can,” McKenna said.

“But somebody just said to me downstairs that we would have finished fifth in the league last year with that total.

“As I said on Friday, it’s the highest points total in a very long time by a newly-promoted team and it’s with a large majority of the players that we had here last year without spending an awful lot of money.

“It’s massive credit to everyone here, players, staff and the supporters for the atmosphere that we’ve created here at home, that’s made us a formidable team.”

Town lost Wes Burns, Broadhead and Chaplin to injuries, which was the only downside from the game for McKenna.

“I think you can safely say that’s the only disappointment on the day,” he reflected. “Wes looks like he’s strained his calf, Nathan probably strained his thigh and Conor was a heavy knock.

“We’ve had five games in 14 days and these boys are pushing to the maximum, so that will be another challenge for us now.”

Harry Clarke was only considered fit enough for the bench, while McKenna says Jack Taylor should return to training ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Plymouth.

“Harry was OK this morning, he had a severe dead leg but he was OK this morning to be on the bench, so that was a positive,” the Northern Irishman said. “Jack Taylor should be able to train next week, hopefully.”

McKenna says, with the Blues having no midweek match, ahead of facing Plymouth Argyle in Devon next weekend, it’s vital for his players to get some rest.

“That’s important, it’s been a really busy spell,” he said. “We’ve probably paid the price today with the two muscle injuries, so we have to limit the damage from that as much as we can.

“Certainly a good time to have a free midweek now, we’ve got a long trip next week to a well-know territory and we’ll try and do everything we can this week to be as ready as we can.”