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Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna feels pride not frustration following 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough





Pride was Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna’s main emotion following their 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough at Portman Road, although he admitted frustration might come into it tomorrow with the Blues, who returned to the top of the Sky Bet Championship, having spurned a chance to go three points clear.

Massimo Luongo netted an 30th-minute equaliser for Town against his old club after Emmanuel Latte Lath had put the Teessiders in front 10 minutes earlier.

In the lunchtime fixture, Leeds United had been beaten 1-0 at home by Blackburn, while Leicester City, who went into the weekend as leaders, lost by the same scoreline at Plymouth on Friday night.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side come from behind in the first half to draw with Middlesbrough in their penultimate home match Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side come from behind in the first half to draw with Middlesbrough in their penultimate home match Picture: Barry Goodwin

Asked whether he was frustrated by the result, the Blues’ second home stalemate in four days following the goalless draw with Watford, McKenna said: “Frustration isn’t my feeling at the moment, maybe it will be tomorrow. At the moment, it’s pride around the performance.

“I thought it was a brilliant game, I thought the performance was excellent against a good side and I was really proud of how we went about our business.

“I thought we played brave, we played confident, tactically it was a really good battle, we created plenty of chances to win the game and I thought it was a really good performance.

Massimo Luongo wheels away after scoring Ipswich Town’s equaliser from a Leif Davis corner Picture: Barry Goodwin
Massimo Luongo wheels away after scoring Ipswich Town’s equaliser from a Leif Davis corner Picture: Barry Goodwin

“Over the course of the last two games, could we have had an extra couple of points? For sure. Could we have lost today? Vaz [Vaclav Hladky] produces a great save at the end. Possibly.

“The players are giving everything and what’s more pleasing for me is the performance. The end of the season, forget how many points that we’ll get, I don’t think they’re going to leave an ounce of effort out there.

“I really liked how we went about our business and at the end of the day we pick up a point from a really good performance and we’ve got a little bit of recovery now and we can look forward to the last week and three great games.”

Reflecting on the match against Boro, who are managed by his close friend Michael Carrick, he added: “It was a really difficult game. To play Watford and Middlesbrough with the Watford game the fourth game in 12 days, then play Middlesbrough in game five in the last 15 days with important players missing from the squad for different reasons as well, to perform like that and for a good chunk of Wednesday’s game, I think is testament to the group.

Conor Chaplin is brought down in the box by Rav ven den Berg in first-half stoppage time but the penalty appeals were waved away Picturte: Barry Goodwin
Conor Chaplin is brought down in the box by Rav ven den Berg in first-half stoppage time but the penalty appeals were waved away Picturte: Barry Goodwin

“I think Middlesbrough are a very, very good side, they’ve shown that very often. I don’t think many teams will have given them as hard a game as today.

“Of course, they had a threat, I’m pretty sure Michael won’t have set them up to play on the transition, the counter-attack to be their biggest threat, but today it was, partly because of our play and because of the quality and the pace that they have as well.

“I thought it was a really good game. I’m proud that we managed to dominate large spells of it. They had their spells and moments as well and I thought it was two really good teams.”

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was more than happy with his side’s performance Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was more than happy with his side’s performance Picture: Barry Goodwin

McKenna was pleased with Luongo’s leveller from a Leif Davis corner, the left-back’s 17th Championship assist of the season, extending his new record for a defender at this level.

“Very good, very important, credit to the boys for the execution and to the staff for that one at this stage of the season,” the Blues boss continued.

“We spoke about it during the week, we need to score a set play or two over the next few games, for sure.

“You’re not going to win games at this stage of the season without scoring set plays and we haven’t scored one for a few games.

“Great that that one came off. Conor [Chaplin] had a big chance early in the game as well and set pieces can gain or lose you points at this stage of the season and you can look at it coldly today that the set plays won us an important point.”

Striker Ali Al-Hamadi, signed from League Two AFC Wimbledon in January, made his first start for the Blues and hugely impressed his manager with his display.

“I think he was fantastic, I have to say,” McKenna enthused. “I see a group in which everyone is contributing. I see players coming into the team, knowing their jobs, being fit, ready to play a part. I see players coming off the bench having impacts and that’s a fantastic place to be.

“Speaking of Ali in particular, I thought it was a terrific performance. We know where he’s come from, what his journey’s been.

“It’s one thing coming on late in the games in the Championship, which he’s done really well, when defenders are tired and he’s showed his aggression and his running and his hunger.

“But to play in that game, the tactical level of that game, his pressing was really, really good, it was disciplined, it was intelligent, some of his dropping down to connect with the number 10s was really, really good and that shows massive growth in the last few months because I don’t think he would have been capable of that a couple of months ago.

“There’s still loads to come from him but he’s showing that he can learn and will learn and for a first start in the Championship against a good team, good centre-halves, I thought that was a really good performance.”

McKenna revealed that right-back Harry Clarke missed out as he was unwell.

He said: “Harry was sick, so another one of those. He wasn’t able to be involved.”

The Blues boss says news of Leeds slipping up against Blackburn, their first home league defeat of the season, hadn’t filtered through prior to kick-off.

“No, I really don’t think it did,” he said. “I can only speak for myself, but I can also speak for what I’ve seen in the performance.

“I don’t see a team playing with any tension, I certainly don’t see a team playing with any anxiety. The boys looked like they were loving the match and playing their football and enjoying being part of this team, playing in that atmosphere and producing a really good performance.

“I don’t sense any tension in the group at all, to be honest. I know because we’ve not picked up as many points in the last couple of games [people might assume that was the case], but I think if we had Watford and Middlesbrough in such quick succession at any point of the season, it would be two hard-fought competitive games that could go either way.

“We could easily have won either game. I think the performances were probably good enough to win them both, but at the same time we could have lost one.

“I honestly feel that the group are enjoying it, they’re enjoying the game, enjoying being part of this experience at the top end of the division and the great thing is now that we’ve got a little bit of a pause and then we can really look forward to the last three games.”

Quizzed on whether he felt his side might have had a penalty towards end of first half, when Chaplin looked to be brought down by Rav van den Berg, McKenna said: “It’s never high on my checklist unless it’s something absolutely blatant, I’ve so many things to think about in the game.

“I’ll have it looked back and I’m sure I’ll have a good moan if there was one, but I didn’t feel anything too much at the time.

“The offside where Kieffer [Moore] has his chance late in the game is onside. I felt like it was onside at the time and the flag goes up and the whistle goes as Kieffer takes his shot. I think that was a big moment. But I didn’t see too much in the decisions.

“I thought there might have been a handball from [Matt] Clarke on the cross [from Axel Tuanzebe in the first half] but I didn’t have a great angle.

“It was a good game, a good sporting game, two teams competing and it’s better to focus on that.”

Town now have a two-week gap before they play again, at Hull City, due to next week’s Saturday’s game at Coventry being postponed as the Sky Blues are in FA Cup semi-final action against Manchester United next Sunday.

That, along with the 8pm kick-off at Hull, means Leicester and Leeds will both have played twice times before Town are next in action. Are the Foxes and Whites under greater pressure due to that?

“I don’t know,” McKenna smiled. “We’re coming from such a different place. If you asked me who’s under more pressure, I’m pretty sure everyone would agree it’s not us; where we’re coming from, how this group’s performed.

“Eighty-nine points at this stage of the season, the highest ever of a Championship team [following promotion], I’m not sure anyone in the history of the EFL has ever got 90 points two seasons in a row. We’re one point away from doing it.

“I don’t feel any pressure, I don’t think the boys do. I don’t think that’s anything to do with why we’ve drawn today. I think it was a really good game in isolation.

“I can’t speak for them [the other challengers]. I can imagine their mindset and environment is possibly a little bit different than ours.

“Today, I’ve seen a group of players really enjoying their football. I know supporters, of course, will get a little bit more anxious about these things but I thought they were terrific as well today.

“I think most supporters will go home today happy with the terrific game of football that they’ve seen and knowing that the players have given everything to try and get the three points. Of course, we have to take a point but I think they can be proud of what they saw.”

McKenna says the two-week gap is welcome after a busy run of five games in 15 days since the international break last month.

“It’s more important to have a week, we would have had a week anyway to prepare for the Coventry game, so I think that would have been more important,” he said.

“It’s been more about the relentlessness of the midweek games coming off the back of international duty and we had people like Kieffer especially playing 120 minutes in the second game of international duty, Broady [Nathan Broadhead] away, Cameron Burgess on the other side of the world in Australia for games.

“So it’s been really, really busy. So I think to have a free week would have been the most important.

“Having two weeks, it gives us a better chance to get boys coming back from injury, gives us a chance to get some 11-v-11 in next weekend and we’ll try and use the period as best we can.”