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Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna hails ‘a really complete performance’ in 2-0 victory at Middlesbrough





Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna hailed a ‘really complete performance’ following the Blues’ 2-0 away victory over Middlesbrough, the side managed by his close friend Michael Carrick.

Conor Chaplin netted in the 36th minute and then played the through ball for sub Omari Hutchinson on 67 to seal Town’s first win at the Riverside Stadium since the opening day of the 2010/11 season.

The Blues remain second in the Sky Bet Championship – still a point behind leaders Leicester City and seven ahead of third-placed Leeds United – following their sixth win on the road this season and a third straight victory.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was left delighted with his side’s display up at Middlesbrough Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna was left delighted with his side’s display up at Middlesbrough Picture: Barry Goodwin

“I thought it was a really complete performance, especially for an away game,” McKenna said in his post-match press conference.

“I thought we controlled most elements of the game, really. I liked our out-of-possession game, both high and low. I liked our in-possession game, our set-plays were good.

“Probably the only thing I thought we could have been cleaner in was our execution in the final third and especially in the first half, we could have created a higher calibre of chance with some of the positions we got into.

“But there was so much good work in all phases of the game and I thought our game management away to a really good team was very good as well.”

McKenna says the second goal was vital: “Very important, it always is. Having said that, I thought defensively we felt in control but at 1-0 anything can happen, and can at 2-0 in this league.

“It was a big goal, I’m delighted for Omari. Even though it was simple, it was a really good team goal because it was the exact connection that we wanted to get.

“Hirsty’s [George Hirst’s] dropping down in the second half was really, really good, he was a real point for us to drop into and pull a defender out of the backline and we knew with Omari’s pace he could come on and run into those spaces.

“And the execution on the finish for a young player going through in that situation was really, really good.

“I think, if you remember, his chance in pre-season against RB Leipzig where he runs through at 1-0, the exact same position, he takes extra touches and doesn’t get a shot off.

“So to go through in that manner and to take it at the near post, takes another level of bravery. Nice combination and a really nice finish.”

Regarding top scorer Chaplin, who took his goals tally to eight for the season and his assists total to five, he added: “A great strike. First half, the only thing I could fault was that we should have created cleaner chances, especially some of the regains that we had and some of the times we got through the pitch.

“But sometimes when you’ve got Conor on the pitch, a half-chance is a chance and when it pops to him in a position anywhere near the penalty box, it’s a bit of a chance.

“He strikes it really well, I think it takes a little nick maybe [off Barham-born former Town defender Matt Clarke], but I thought we were good value for a goal at that point in our general play.

“And good positioning and he was bright and alive, as he always is, for the second goal and puts Omari through really well.”

Despite the Blues largely being in control of the game, keeper Vaclav Hladky made two big second-half saves when they were needed.

“A really good performance from him again,” McKenna enthused.

“His composure on the ball was there for all to see. It was really top level and our build-up looked really clean again against a team who can press well.

“I thought our first-phase build-up was really clean and secure, and, of course, he’s a big part of that and he made a couple of good saves.

“You’re certainly going to need that, you’re never going to come through a game like this without needing a few of those and he was there when we needed him.”

McKenna was pleased with the clean sheet, the first since the win at Bristol City at the end of October, but with the overall defensive display more significant for him.

“It’s one of those things,” he reflected. “We don’t speak about it that much, you probably get asked more about it when you don’t have one in a while.

“I thought it was a really good defensive performance and that’s more where my focus is, on how well we can defend in terms of pressing and a defensive block and it was a really good defensive performance.

“Vaz’s best save was probably from the header [from Emmanuel Latte Lath] on the set play. If it goes in, it still would have been a really good defensive performance as Middlesbrough are really good and they’re going to get a chance at some point.

“That’s three games in a row where we’ve given away very, very few opportunities, especially in open play against good sides. Coventry and Middlesbrough were two sides who competed in the play-offs last year and we’ve given them very little in open play this year.

“I think that’s a big positive to take and to focus on and the clean sheet means I won’t get asked about it again for a little bit longer.”

One minor negative was skipper Sam Morsy picking up his ninth booking of the season late on for kicking the ball away after his former club Boro were awarded a free kick.

“It was only frustration from the game,” McKenna said. “I thought it was a nonsense yellow, to be honest. I didn’t think it was a foul.

“I thought there were a few instances in the last 15 minutes that were given in the context of the game and the crowd and the scoreline, not what actually happened.

“It was a frustrating yellow. I spoke about that yesterday. I thought it was another one I’d put in the category of a frustrating yellow that I’m not sure needed to be given.”

With the Egyptian international potentially banned for two games - including next Saturday’s East Anglian derby against Norwich City - if he picks up his 10th caution at Watford on Tuesday, does that give McKenna a decision to make when it comes to picking his side for the visit to Vicarage Road?

“I’ve not thought about it much,” McKenna said. “It’s happened 10 minutes ago, my main thought going into Tuesday night is that it’s a really, really tough game, we’ve got to go and try and perform and do that as well as we possibly can, that’s what my overriding feeling is going to be going into Tuesday. That aspect will probably go into that category as well.”

McKenna said he and Boro boss Carrick, playing colleagues at Tottenham and then members of the Manchester United staff together, hadn’t spoken during the week ahead of the match.

“We’ll catch up now,” he added. “After the game’s never the best time. Whichever way the result had have gone today, the respect certainly doesn’t change and they’re a very good team, they give you a lot of problems.

“Both teams were very familiar with the problems that the other teams give one another and you could probably see little bits of that in the game today.

“But the clean sheet and how controlled the performance was certainly doesn’t reflect the difficulty of the opposition, they’re a really good team, who cause you problems in a lot of different ways.”

He says there were signs in Boro’s performance of a good side developing following a summer in which key men from last year have moved on.

“I certainly think there is,” he continued. “This was one of the hardest preps that there is. They’re a team that give you so many problems.

“The only advantage we have is that we know what a lot of the problems are because they’re the same ones we try and give.

“But it was one of the hardest preps that we have had, to be honest, in terms of there being so much I like about their play, especially in an attacking sense, which is really, really good.

“I’m learning and understanding the Championship and that’s it sometimes. They probably overachieved last year.

“A team that did so well was, not built around, but there was a large contribution from loan players, who were a massive, massive part of that success.

“And another player [Chuba Akpom] who had an amazing season. You sell that player, who had the amazing season [to Ajax], loan players return to their parent club and you have to rebuild it again.

“And that takes time in this division, especially when you do it - and I’ve not spoken to Michael loads about it - but it’s pretty clear they’ve tried to sign loan players with room to improve and develop.

“That takes time for that to come in place and I’m pretty sure if they stay on the path that they are now and stick with that process, I’m sure there’ll be a time in the not too distant future where they’re one of the absolute strongest teams in the division.”

McKenna was linked with the Sunderland and Crystal Palace jobs this week, with the Eagles - who it’s claimed may soon part company with boss Roy Hodgson - long understood to be fans of the Blues boss, but he says he pays little interest in such speculation.

“Zero, to be honest,” he said. “There are so many other things to focus on in the big job that we’re doing here day to day.

“It’s not a source of interest or pride. My focus is here and preparing the team and this group as well as I can every week for what’s been a really exciting season so far, but with lots of challenges ahead. That’s where 100 per cent of the focus is.”