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Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna proud of side’s second-half fightback against Bristol City to earn another three points in promotion race

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna hailed the Blues’ 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Bristol City at Portman Road as a ‘brilliant way to win a football match’.

Leif Davis netted an 89th minute winner after the Robins had twice gone ahead and Ali Al-Hamadi and Conor Chaplin had equalised before the Iraqi international saw a penalty saved prior to Davis’s last-gasp strike, his first goal of the season.

“It was a brilliant way to win a football match,” McKenna enthused. “I think a night and an end to a match and an atmosphere that we have to enjoy.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was left proud of how his side finished another Tuesday night game at Portman Road Picture: Russell Claydon
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was left proud of how his side finished another Tuesday night game at Portman Road Picture: Russell Claydon

“Some qualities shown in that second half that we have to be very, very proud of and another really good night for the football club.

“Of course, if you dissect the game from an analytical point of view, there are other things to take, other things to learn. It was a difficult game, we knew it was going to be.

“The challenge in front of us in that first half was exactly the challenge that we expected, to be honest.

“I said it before the game, Bristol City are an excellent team in those conditions where they can defend in the mid-block. They’re very good blocking off all the areas that you want to get to, blocking off the connections that you want to get, stopping you playing through them.

“They’re athletic and disciplined and well-organised and they’re a hard team to play against and they carry a threat on the counter and they showed that tonight.

“They’ve shown that against other top teams in the division and they’ve shown that against a couple of Premier League teams [West Ham United and Nottingham Forest] in the FA Cup as well.

“The challenge was the one that we thought it would be. We didn’t execute very well in that first 60 minutes, I think you could say, struggled to get to the areas that we wanted to get to.

“Whenever we did get to those areas, our technical quality wasn’t of the level that it needed to be to create more chances, so it was a difficult game.

“The second half was different, the game opened up, there were more chances at both ends. There was more space and, of course, our players relished that and the subs had a massive part coming on and utilising that space well and scoring three goals and creating a couple of other big chances at the end.

“There’s the performance to analyse, which we will do and try and learn and get better from it, but also there’s also the emotion of the game and the scenes in the stadium are things that we really have to enjoy tonight.”

Asked for his thoughts when Al-Hamadi’s penalty was saved in the 86th minute at 2-2, McKenna reflected: “I wasn’t thinking that much. I was still in the belief that we would create chances, still in the belief that another moment would come our way.

“I think that was a massive, massive part of tonight because we’ve come back from goals conceded before and the players know their response to that now pretty well.

“Of course, we’re disappointed when we concede but as soon as the ball’s in play, we’re trying to score the next goal.

“But to come back from that tonight was massive because to miss a penalty that late in the game when we’d worked so hard to come back, to miss what would have felt like a winning penalty, I think 99.9 per cent of all football teams in all stadiums would probably empty out of hope at that point and feel like the game is done.

“But I didn’t feel that from the players, I certainly didn’t feel that from the supporters. There was still a great energy in the stadium and you could sense there was a great belief that we would push again and create another chance.

“And we managed to do that shortly after and of all the ebbing and flowing in that last 30 minutes, the response to the penalty being saved, that was the one to be most proud of.”

McKenna was reminded that one of his former employers, Manchester United, used to make a habit of scoring late goals to the extent that it was almost expected of them.

“That definitely helps when you’ve been through experiences, all experiences but certainly positive experiences like that,” he said. “It increases the belief that it will come again.

“It’s not by accident. It’s fitness, it’s tactics, it’s squad building, it’s character, that’s a big, big part of it.

“It’s taken us a bit of time for everyone to build that. If you remember probably our first 12 months, it was actually an issue. We didn’t score any late goals, we drew lots of games where we weren’t able to break down deep defences late on.

“Second half of last season, we didn’t need to because usually we had a margin in the game and the games were won earlier on.

“But we’ve worked to build those sorts of qualities in the group and this season, for sure, we’ve needed it. It was always going to be the case, I’ve said it lots of times, every game is so tough.

“If we compete really, really well, then the game will be competitive and tight and then you’ve got to find ways to fight for the margins to come your way and, of course, late winners and not giving away late goals, all those things become massive in terms of the points total that you accrue at the end of the season.

“And, thankfully, we’re doing a good job in those phases. But we’ll keep learning and trying to get better at that as well.”

Davis took his tally of assists to 14 and now jointly holds the record in the Championship alongside another former Leeds man Barry Douglas.

“Credit to him,” McKenna said regarding that total. “But I think he’s pleased with the goal tonight more than the assists because it’s his first of the season.

“He could have had two goals really. The first goal, Ali does the right thing to tap it in, but from where I was it looked like it was possibly going to go in anyway, so I think you can say it was a really composed finished.

“Goalscoring’s something that he wants to get better at and he’s been working on because he does get in those areas so often, he does get so high up the pitch and he’s a good technician, so if he can find that little bit more composure then he can add goals to his games as well.

“That was the more pleasing thing for me tonight. Of course, to get another assist from the set play, we know his set play delivery can be really good, it was a fantastic header from Conor and it was a big goal for us. A big night for him.”

Reflecting on his subs, who changed the game with a quadruple change which saw Al-Hamadi, Wes Burns, Jeremy Sarmiento and Jack Taylor introduced on the hour mark, McKenna added: “We knew, irrespective of what the scoreline or the game state was, that I was going to make early subs tonight because we had a tough away game at Plymouth on a heavy pitch on Saturday, so I’d already decided we were going to make subs early in the game.

“The way the game was going, I could have made five or six, to be honest. Not criticising, partly on energy levels and changing the flow of the game and bringing different qualities to the game.

“I think the four who came on first of all had a really good impact on the game. Wes got his rhythm straight away and gave us that vertical running threat that we didn’t have in the first half to get in behind. He brought that to the game straight away. That changes the dynamic of it, then creates more space.

“Ali came on and did a really good job. Jeremy showed fantastic commitment again and getting Jack back on the pitch was big as well, and Harry [Clarke] came on and contributed as well.

“Big impact from the subs. It was a night when we were always going to need that. The way the game turned out, we needed it more and earlier than we thought, but a good impact again.”

Asked about Kieffer Moore, who appeared to be struggling with an ankle injury prior to being substituted, McKenna said: “I think he just got a heavy knock. I’ve not heard anything different. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”