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Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna hails side for last-gasp 3-2 comeback win against Southampton to regain top spot

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna hailed Jeremy Sarmiento’s 97th-minute winner as ‘a moment to cherish’ and the top-of-the-table Blues’ 3-2 victory over 10-man Southampton as ‘a brilliant day’.

On-loan Brighton & Hove Albion forward Sarmiento somehow stabbed a Leif Davis cross - the left-back’s 16th assist of the season - having initially slipped to send Portman Road wild and the Blues back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship table.

Asked if the manner of the result was the best of the season, McKenna reflected: “It was right up there, it was another brilliant day, a brilliant match to be involved in.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side come from behind to take all three points once again Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side come from behind to take all three points once again Picture: Barry Goodwin

“A really high level, fantastic performance, both teams did so many good things and a great day to be involved in.

“Of course, when you win it with a last-minute winner like that, it’s a moment to really cherish.

“We were pretty calm at half-time, I thought the first half was a good game. We worked the first goal well, both teams were giving each other problems, to be fair.

Massimo Luongo embraces opening goalscorer Leif Davis Picture: Barry Goodwin
Massimo Luongo embraces opening goalscorer Leif Davis Picture: Barry Goodwin

“We were giving them problems right through the game, especially with Leif on the left-hand side and switches out to that side.

“And they were giving us problems down our right-hand side and overloading us really well down that side.

“Both teams were giving each other problems. They executed fantastically well on their two goals, I have to say.

“We had a blow in the first half with Kieffer [Moore] coming off and that probably gave them the momentum for 10 minutes or so before half-time.

“But I think the feeling in the dressing room was that there wasn’t too much wrong with the performance, we just needed to regroup, there were some details we needed to adjust with our set-up and how they set up against us, and some details that we needed to help Ali [Al-Hamadi] with coming off the bench in a game like that.

“But we knew we were in for a really good second half. There were still going to be spells, and there were still spells, where Southampton would be in the ascendancy where we’d have to defend our goal, we’d have to block shots, make saves because they’re too good a team not to have those spells.

“But we also knew that we would have a threat and we would still be capable of scoring goals. Subs would be able to make an impact and, as it does, our fitness would carry through to the last minute.

Leif Davis scores the opening goal in the 13th minute Picture: Barry Goodwin
Leif Davis scores the opening goal in the 13th minute Picture: Barry Goodwin

“The half-time was relaxed, focused and we knew we were still right in the game.”

Regarding Sarmiento’s last-second winner, McKenna added: “A great moment. I think everyone got a little bit lost in it, subs, staff everyone. My radar still probably thinks there are 30 seconds to go so you have to get organised again.

“We’ve had it happen to us, we did it to Rotherham here a month ago. You still have to see the last ball or two out, but a wonderful moment for everyone involved and one I’m sure everyone will remember for a long time.

“It’s a good habit [scoring late goals]. It doesn’t happen by chance, I think I’ve spoken that before, everyone knows it doesn’t happen by chance. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but it’s a great way to win a game.”

Asked jokingly whether Sarmiento is claiming he dummied when he fell over, McKenna laughed.

Massimo Luongo breaks away from Joe Aribo Picture: Barry Goodwin
Massimo Luongo breaks away from Joe Aribo Picture: Barry Goodwin

“He had a few slips, so he’d probably have been getting criticised about his footwear if he hadn’t have toe-poked that in because he had a few slips when he came on,” he said.

“He’s reacted really well and got a toe-poke to it and that’s some big goals for him now.

“One of the big things about the loan for him in the second half of the season was to be more effective, to get in the box better, to find a way to add to his goal tally and he’s stepped up with some big moments for us.”

Having had a long trip to Ewood Park to face - and beat - Blackburn on Friday with a late return home, McKenna said he was proud of his team and backroom.

“I am, players and staff,” he continued. “I have to say, it’s taken an incredible effort.

“That’s football at the Easter weekend but it was a tough game away to Blackburn off the back of international duty, late back Friday night, Southampton are a really, really difficult team to prepare for, probably one of the most thorough preparations we’ve had to go through.

“And they can still give you different problems in different ways, so it’s taken a big, big effort from everyone over the weekend staff-wise to prepare the players physically and tactically as well as we could and for the players to keep the energy, keep the focus, keep the spirit and get ready to go again. I have to say I’m really, really proud of the effort that was put into that one.”

McKenna said he’s not had a lot of rest over the last few days: “What’s sleep? It’s been busy. I’ve said before, we’re privileged to be in the game, so I’m certainly never going to cry about work, we enjoy it.

“I have to say, at the weekend there were long hours, it’s been a lot of work. One, because they’re one of the most complicated teams tactically to deal with whenever they’ve got possession.

“So it’s been an awful lot of work. I haven’t seen much of my wife or children, I’m sure the same for the staff, so when you get your rewards like you do today, it makes it all the more satisfying and we can enjoy the next 24 hours or so now before we think too far ahead.”

Quizzed on how significant it was to beat a fellow challenger in such a manner at this point in the season, McKenna insisted: “Honestly, I’ve not thought about the table apart from everyone asking me about it since the game ended.

“I think days like today, a full stadium, terrific atmosphere, fantastic team, going toe-to-toe against a team who were in the Premier League last year with the trajectory that we’re on, that’s a day to enjoy in itself.

“The effort, the performance, scoring a last-minute winner, the atmosphere, these are things to enjoy and cherish in isolation really. Everything else can take care of itself.

“We know we’ve got since more really difficult games as well but I just want to enjoy this one for now, let the players enjoy it, let the supporters hopefully enjoy this one for a long time and, come tomorrow, we’ll be in recovering and getting ready for the next game.”

Town’s subs once again had a big effect on the game with Nathan Broadhead scoring the equaliser following good work from Jack Taylor in addition to Samiento’s late heroics.

“Fantastic, I’ve said before, subs coming on and having an impact and scoring goals is always one of the things which pleases me most because it’s one of the clearest and biggest reflections you can have on the culture in your group,” he said.

“It’s not just about quality because every team at this level, especially in the top half of the table, but even beyond that, have deep squads, have good players, good options.

“It’s not about some magic information 10 seconds before they come on, it’s about how we work day-to-day, it’s about a squad fully engaged in training, fully engaged in preparation and knowing their roles and working daily on their roles and their relationships so that when they come into the pitch.

“And we know in this league that we need to bring them into the pitch pretty early because we have to work at such an intensity to be competitive. And being able to come in and step straight into the roles and have an impact.

“And we saw that again today, all five subs, I have to say. Ali’s role can’t be downplayed, that’s a massive thing to come into a Championship game, into the first half of a Championship game for the first time in his life against a team and centre-halves of that level.

“Nathan and Jack for the second goal, Jeremy, of course, Harry [Clarke]’s impact. A great day for the squad again.”

Did he ever doubt that his side could win the game? “You can never be certain, of course, with the level of the opponent, the level of the game. It’s not like we know we’re going to score a last-minute winner, we’re going to win the game.

“What we do know is that at 2-1 I know the players won’t stop, they won’t drop their heads, they won’t go away from what we try and do.

“I would have been proud if we’d lost 3-1, and that’s the truth, because at 2-1 against a team like that, we’re trying to play open and aggressive football and their level is so high that on another day they maybe get a third goal.

“But I know that the players won’t take a backwards step from what we’re trying to do and I really believe that’s how we have and how we will progress and continue on the trajectory as fast as we have done.

“I feel like I know what I’m going to get from the players and we’ve shown plenty of times that gives us a great chance to get late goals.”

McKenna admitted he was just as ecstatic when Sarmiento’s goal as anyone but quickly focused his mind.

“If you can’t get lost in that moment, you’ll probably never get lost in anything, so there was probably five or 10 seconds where jubilation or any sort of adjective you want to put on it,” he said.

“After that, the job’s not done and it’s about the experiences that you’ve been through.

“And I’ve been coaching for a very, very long time and it’s not all that different from managing and with that experience you know things can happen in a football match.

“Last year, those that follow us will know, we had a game at Charlton and we scored in maybe the 90th minute and they went and scored two goals in injury time to come back to 4-4.

“We had a game here a month ago against Rotherham where they scored in the 96th minute and we didn’t switch off, we went up the other end and scored a winning goal.

“When you go through these experiences, you know every second counts and it’s certainly my job to be the first one to dial to concentrate and help the players and the staff to do that as well.”

McKenna was on the staff at Manchester United when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team had a similar record at scoring late goals, while the Blues having now taken 31 points from losing positions this season.

The Northern Irishman was asked whether that time under Solskjaer left an impression.

“I think so,” he reflected. “I think it’s known that I grew up as a Man United supporter and you saw that team and I worked with Ole and Michael [Carrick] and people like that who were a big part of that culture and spoke with them about the things that contributed to so many late goals and being able to win so many tight games, and picked up some good ideas.

“The common threads are that it’s not usually necessarily about magic substitutions or a magic wand from the sideline, it’s about your culture and how you build your belief, your fitness, your ideas over a longer period of time.

“And that club managed to do that better than anyone has, possibly. We’ve worked really hard to build that over the last couple of years here.”