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Ipswich Town midfielder Massimo Luongo says squad need to stick together following Preston North End defeat

Ipswich Town midfielder Massimo Luongo says the squad need to stick together following the Blues’ 3-2 defeat to Preston North End at Deepdale on Saturday.

Kieffer Moore’s two second-half goals proved not enough to claw back the deficit inflicted by a Will Keane brace and a George Edmundson own goal at half-time, leaving Town with just one win in their last eight league games.

Despite coming out on the wrong side of the scoreline, Luongo believes an improved second half showed how the Blues need to keep working on their principles that has seen them lose only four league games so far this campaign.

Massimo Luongo says Ipswich Town need to stick together after defeat to Preston North End. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Massimo Luongo says Ipswich Town need to stick together after defeat to Preston North End. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“It was a bit of a sucker punch,” he said.

“Looking back at it, maybe we were half a yard off on transitions and stuff like that, hence the two goals.

“The boss said we weren’t far off it, we were playing some good stuff and doing the right things on the ball. We lost it in areas where we were probably a bit vulnerable on the counter and then they made us pay and we got punished for it.

Massimo Luongo believed Ipswich Town were still in the game at 2-0 down. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Massimo Luongo believed Ipswich Town were still in the game at 2-0 down. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“Going forward, we were still trying to do the same thing. We came out both times, I remember we had a good spell of possession then we lost the ball and suddenly we’re 2-0 down.

“But we didn’t stop, it’s hard coming here anyway but being 2-0 down makes it even tougher. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, don’t bring any negative vibes and keep pushing.”

After a disastrous first period, the Blues found themselves 3-0 down at half-time, but Luongo says the strong mentality in the group was clear to see with Kieran McKenna’s side still believing they could get back into the game.

He said: “It felt like at 2-0 we were well in the game. We thought if we get one this side of the half then we can push on. You’ve seen plenty of games where you score just before the half and then the momentum is with you.

Kieran McKenna’s side have won one of their last eight league matches. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Kieran McKenna’s side have won one of their last eight league matches. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“I felt like we were in that situation, we were creating good things it was just our final third stuff was a bit off today. There were a few bobbles in the wrong areas, I remember getting one that bobbled at my knee and lost the ball. But the belief was there after the second goal, for sure.

“On the ball it wasn’t a tough game, they did well tactically but I felt like we could have opened them up a bit better. We were on the verge of doing that and then the third goal came and we thought let’s get in at half-time, figure it out, change a few things and go more attacking.”

The introduction of Moore for his second debut for the club came at the interval. The Bournemouth loanee made an instant impact, causing the Preston defence all sorts of problems due to his aerial presence.

Massimo Luongo returned to the starting line-up on Saturday. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Massimo Luongo returned to the starting line-up on Saturday. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“We started the second half really well,” Luongo said. “Kieffer came on and suddenly we’ve got another option going forwards. When we’re wide, we haven’t used that stand-up ball for the first goal a lot and then suddenly he adds that aspect to our game, so that was definitely a breath of fresh air when he came on.

“He just offers something different that we haven’t had. It takes a little while to get used to, our crosses probably change a little bit as we’re used to a cutback and now he’s probably got a metre of headspace that we can hit instead of picking someone out perfectly on the eye of a needle.

“It maybe takes two or three players out of the game as well because they have to worry about him, and the rest of us can do what we need to do.”

Ali Al-Hamadi is another January recruit who was brought on for his debut, after signing from AFC Wimbledon on Monday.

Of the Iraq international striker, Luongo said: “He’s a great lad, they’re both good lads coming in. Ali looks powerful, he’s got an eye for goal and just wants to get forward.

“His running forward with intent is refreshing because he doesn’t know what type of players we are, but he’s making them runs and decisions for us, and Kieffer does the same.

“It just adds something different to what we’ve already been good at.”

McKenna is not the kind of manager to give the proverbial hairdryer treatment in the dressing room. Instead, the Town boss is methodical in his approach and understands the gameplan might not be working and does not reflect on the players.

“It was calm because we were doing everything we were supposed to be doing,” Luongo said on the mood at the break. “We work on something the whole week and we did it. We didn’t execute it in the final third as well but they defended well with a game plan and it didn’t work out.

“Our reactions and decision-making on the day could have been better when we lost the ball, but ultimately that’s part of the game. Another time it hits the post and we go on and win the game or maybe someone makes a good tackle or the deflection from Fridge [George Edmundson] doesn’t come off as big as it did.

“It’s margins, but you’re not going to get many margins at Deepdale so we’ve got to make sure we’re on it the whole game.”

While the Blues have been strong at coming from behind in matches this season, a three-goal deficit proved too much for Town to overturn. They have also conceded the most goals in division in the opening 15 minutes.

Luongo says fine margins play their part, but admitted the Blues need to start games stronger to avoid giving themselves more work to do.

“We’ve all seen the stats of how good we are at getting back into games,” the 31-year-old said. “I think we’re all sick of that, we just need to keep going in games and don’t give ourselves a mountain to climb. It’s a tough one because we want to play our way, do what we want to do and the manager has a way of playing.

“There’s parts where the margins are small and, if we get it right, we open teams up and look really good. But when you get it wrong or there’s a decision to be made, whether it be a tackle, get back, block the middle, if we don’t get it right we paid the price today.

“It’s fine margins but we can only do what we do on the pitch. On a gameday, you can’t call it and no-one knows what’s going to happen. As long as we keep doing the right things, we’re honest, the effort’s there, then we’ll be there or there abouts at the end of the game.”

Preston caused Town all sorts of problems in the first half and their intense was difficult for the Blues to deal with.

Luongo likened it to earlier games this season where Town have struggled in, but says it is important that the team avoid changing the way they play and believe in what they are doing.

“We’ve had it a few times,” he said. “West Brom was a big one, this one, Leeds, It’s tough. You see the Leicester game, we kept trying to play and ultimately we got the goal and almost got the winner from it.

“Do you not do it, change it up and play a foreign way? You don’t do that. We’ve just got to stick with it and get on the training pitch and work on the ways that, when it doesn’t go right like day, you can counteract or balance that.

“Maybe our positioning off the ball could have been better and we’ll analyse it and take it into the next game. That’s all we can do.”

Defeat sees Town slip to fourth in the Championship table, two points behind Southampton in the final automatic promotion place following victories for the Saints and Leeds United at the weekend.

There has been external talk surrounding the form of those two sides compared with that of the Blues, but Luongo stressed that the team will continue to block out the outside noise as they have done throughout the season.

He said: “We never go into a game thinking we need a win because of where we are, or we need to open the gap or so-and-so’s behind us. We go into the game with a gameplan and a way of playing.

“The manager and coaching staff have done an incredible job to get us where we are and playing how we are. It makes it a lot easier on a matchday as he takes all of the pressure off us and we’ve just got to implement what he wants us to do and what we’ve been practicing.

“And we do that, but the other teams aren’t going to roll over and let us do it, they obviously make it a big challenge but we’ve just got to keep going.

“The support has been great, today was amazing. They appreciate the comeback, obviously they don’t want to see us 3-0 down at half-time. But if you watch that game you see we had fight, we were desperate to get back in and we played some good stuff.

“We never worry about what people say, we just get our head down and worry about next Saturday.”

It was announced on Friday that Lee Evans will leave the club as a free agent following his rehabilitation from a knee injury that the Welshman picked up in September.

Luongo highlighted the contribution his fellow midfielder made in the Blues’ promotion from League One last season and says whoever he goes on to sign for will be stronger for it.

“Evo’s brilliant, I’m really close to Evo,” he said. “He’s had horrible luck with his injuries but every time he’s had one his recovery has been strong and kept his head down.

“He’s worked so hard to get back and unfortunately it’s happened again but he’s doing the same thing. The boys love him and we all wish him all the best.

“He’s with us for a little bit longer so it’s not a complete goodbye, but he knows what he’s got to do and we all back him.

“When he’s fit, he’s a top player. Before I came, he was a big player for the team and unfortunately he got injured. No-one forgets about the boys that aren’t here anymore and what they’ve done for the club. He was a big part of the promotion team.”