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Ipswich Town: Manager Kieran McKenna feels the Blues’ 2-1 win at Watford largely about character in the squad

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna felt the Blues’ 2-1 win at Watford was largely about the character in the squad after they returned to the top of the Championship, with second-placed Leicester City in action tonight.

Skipper Sam Morsy netted the winning goal in the 80th minute at Vicarage Road, Town having gone behind to Yaser Asprilla’s goal before George Hirst had equalised in the 24th minute.

“It was a performance which was all about the character in the group, for me, or predominantly about the character in the group,” McKenna said.

Town boss Kieran McKenna felt the Blues’ victory at Watford was largely about the character in the squad. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Town boss Kieran McKenna felt the Blues’ victory at Watford was largely about the character in the squad. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“In two different ways really. Of course, the character that we showed after the first goal, and most specifically [how] we conceded the goal, in the build-up to it we lost the ball, and we reacted well but they scored from the rebound.

“But the courage and the resilience we showed from there to actually probably beyond stick to our principles, we actually went even more because we knew tonight [the importance of] recycling the ball through the goalkeeper.

“We knew Watford would press with one number nine and mark everyone else on the pitch man-for-man, and if we didn’t recycle the ball through the goalkeeper we wouldn’t get any control in the game or any traction in the game.

“We knew the build-up was going to be really important and I thought the players executed that fantastically from that moment onwards.

“And even in the second half, even at 1-1, even with tired legs, even with a home crowd trying to build the pressure, we stayed brave, stuck with the principles, kept trying to release the spare man at the back and controlled some parts of the game really well in that way.

“That was a really big show of belief and bravery in what we do. And then I think the effort levels in the second half were outstanding.

“We looked at times like we’d had a really difficult game. We freshened the team but we still looked like we were coming off the back of a really difficult game on Saturday and a long travel from a physical point of view.

“But the players dug in and gave every ounce of effort that they had really in every moment of the game.

“You do that, you show the bravery, you push right to your limits and I thought the players did that, then you deserve to come out on the right side of a really difficult game.”

At 1-1 away from home against a decent Watford side, a lot of teams might have settled for a draw, but Town always believe they can win matches.

“I think so,” McKenna concurred. “We don’t want to, and you can’t, drastically change your belief in how you want to be as a team just to match the game state in any given week.

“We wanted to go and win the game away from home, we believed that we could, we tried to make positive substitutions to impact the game and also just to bring on fresh legs and the players kept trying to push for the goal, kept trying to control the game.

“At times Watford had a big, big threat on the transition and they were leaving players up as well, so in that second half there was always the threat that we would get broken on on the transition, but it’s really important to the players that we keep our identity as a team as much as we can.

“I think the goal probably typified that spirit because Samy’s nominally our deepest midfielder and it’s certainly not top of his job description that he has to be up there pressing the centre-half.

“But it showed the determination, the will that the whole group showed to go and make an impact, make a difference and find a way to win that game. It was actually a really fitting goal to win the type of game that it was.”

Morsy finished the chance with the confidence of a veteran centre-forward rather than a deep-lying midfielder.

McKenna said: “He’s saying that he scuffed it, to be fair, but it looked like a really good finish. He’s said he tried to go for the far post and scuffed it. I think he’s maybe being a bit modest there.

“A really calm finish and for me it was the determination to sense the moment to go and make a really impactful regain and it certainly looked like a good finish from where I was.”

With Morsy on nine bookings with a 10th leading to a two-match ban, there had been talk that the Blues boss might rest his captain ahead of Saturday’s East Anglian derby against Norwich.

But the Northern Irishman said he had no thoughts of doing so: “Zero, to be honest. It wasn’t a discussion point for me. I think I know what message that would send to the rest of our group in terms of how important we’re taking a really difficult away game in the league. It was never in question and I thought he played really well.”

McKenna and his team can now look ahead to Saturday’s big game against the Canaries as the Blues look to beat their great rivals for the first time since 2009.

“A game to look forward to, one to embrace,” he said. “Derby matches are a little bit different. This is a massive derby for our supporters and we’ll prepare for the game as well as we can. We can’t give any more than 100 per cent and the players are giving 100 per cent.

“We’ll prepare for it as we do every game and respect the opponent and some of the quality players that they have, and try and do everything we can to go and put in a good performance.”

Saturday will mark the second anniversary of McKenna’s appointment at Portman Road, a remarkable time in which the Blues have climbed from 12th in League One to the top of the Championship, albeit perhaps just for one day with Leicester in action at home to Millwall tomorrow.

Nevertheless, Town have broken club and divisional records on an almost weekly basis with this evening’s game taking the Blues’ league goals in 2023 to 100, a first in the Blues’ history.

“It’s been a really good two years,” McKenna reflected. “I think there’s a great amount of work that’s gone on at the club from a lot of people and the ownership have been in place maybe two and a half years now, the board beneath that led by [CEO] Mark [Ashton].

“There’s been a lot of work from the football club, the development of facilities, the stadium, building the relationships in the community again, building the Ipswich Town Foundation and a lot of work put into the football side of it.

“The two years that I’ve been here alongside the staff, working with this group of players and trying to develop them individually and trying to develop a team and trying to develop a style of play that the supporters can be really proud of and an identity the supporters could really get behind, that’s been a really enjoyable journey.

“It’s taken us to where we are now and we want to keep going. Just keep working hard every day, keep trying to improve, there are things that we learn from every game, things that we’ll learn from tonight and we just keep trying to get better and enjoy this journey that we’re on.”

Would you have believed that the club would be in its current position two years on when you took charge?

“I honestly don’t think about those things,” the Blues boss insisted. “Of course, if you said to me when I first arrived, ‘What’s your goals?’ I wouldn’t have said break the record in the history of the Championship after 20 games for a newly-promoted team, or whatever the records are.

“If you focus on just the outcome, one, it can limit what you can actually achieve and, two, you probably won’t focus enough on the groundwork that’s going to get you there.

“I’m really proud of where the players are, I’m proud of the performances, I’m really proud of the individual development of some of the players that are here.

“I’m proud of the style of play that we have to come to a tough ground like this and really try and implement our football on a team that were in the Premier League when I arrived here.

“I think those are the things I focus on and it’s taken us to a promotion, which was a great memories for everyone, it’s helped us get a really, really first 21 games, almost half of this season.

“That’s for the supporters and people on the outside to really enjoy and that’s something that we’re proud of. But for me and us internally now, it’s just about continuing that journey of trying to get better.”