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Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna sees ‘mixed performance’ but hails ‘fantastic result’ at Blackburn Rovers which puts Blues top of the Championship

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna said his side had to show the other side of their game to see out their 1-0 win at Blackburn Rovers which took them back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship table as both Leeds United (2-2 draw) and Leicester City (1-0 dedeat) dropped points.

Having been on top in a first half at Ewood Park in which Conor Chaplin gave his team a ninth-minute lead, the Blues had to battle hard to maintain their clean sheet in the second period and secure their eighth win in nine matches.

“A fantastic result,” McKenna said. “You have to enjoy every win you get in the Championship, especially every win away from home, and a clean sheet away from home and a really good goal scored.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side grind out a 1-0 win at Blackburn Rovers Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side grind out a 1-0 win at Blackburn Rovers Picture: Barry Goodwin

“A really good result, but the performance was mixed throughout the game. I thought in the first half we started ever so well, a big credit to the way we came out, especially after international duty.

“We imposed ourselves really well in the game, were really slick on the ball, gave the opposition problems and I thought we controlled most of the first half.

“Blackburn have a counter-threat and they set up to give us problems through the middle of the pitch and we didn’t have it all our way, but I thought we had a really good first half.

“I thought we came out at the start of the second half and did well as well, to be honest. Probably one thing we can improve from today is not just how the game finished but just going and getting that second goal.

“I thought if we were a little bit more clinical and executed a little bit better, we had great chances to go and get a second goal at the start of that second half.

“As the second half went on, it became tough. We knew there would be tiredness in the group today. We knew we’d lose Kieffer [Moore] early in the game as well.

“And it became a really challenging last 30 minutes. We would have liked to have shown more composure and more control in terms of trying to keep the ball and try and play in their half.

“We didn’t manage to do that. Not through any lack of intent. We have to remember where the boys have come from, how much this means to them.

“Also, the front three for the last 30 minutes, Omari [Hutchinson], Ali [Al-Hamadi] and Jeremy [Sarmiento], it’s their first season in men’s football. Those boys are doing fantastically.

“We worked really hard, we defended our box really well. We blocked crosses, we defended our set plays well, we blocked shots, we didn’t control the game as we would have liked but sometimes you have to show that other side and I thought we did that really well and got a deserved clean sheet.”

McKenna was in no doubt that his side should have been awarded a spot-kick early on when Nathan Broadhead was pulled over in the box by Callum Brittain.

“I thought it should have been a penalty, yes,” he said. “I’ve not seen it back, but it looked blatant from where I was.”

Regarding Chaplin’s goal, he added: “I thought it was in keeping with the start of the game really. I thought we moved the ball really well, really slick and incisive, the movement off the ball was good.

“Leif [Davis] picked out Conor really well and managed to wriggle it underneath the goalkeeper, but a well-worked goal.”

Blackburn complained bitterly that Joe Rankin-Costello’s first-half goal, disallowed by Premier League referee Stuart Attwell as Sammie Szmodics was standing in an offside position in front of Blues keeper Vaclav Hladky, and one from Andrew Moran in the second, ruled out for a foul on the Czech by Andrew Wharton, should have stood.

“I thought the one that was given for offside looked clear offside from where I was,” McKenna said.

“You could see it clearly from where I was, the striker looked like he was a yard in front of Vaz [Hladky] and jumping in front of Vaz or out of the way of Vaz as the ball was struck, so it looked like a clear offside.

“The one in the second half was a clear offside. The referee blew early, so although I know the ball went in the net, everyone heard the whistle before the ball went in.

“No dramas there. I thought the referee reffed it well, it wasn’t easy, it was a competitive game. Of course, the crowd get up a little bit as home crowds do and they’re not getting the decisions or the things that they want, but I thought he did it well and I thought the decisions, apart from probably Nathan’s penalty were, by my eye, pretty good.”

As well as the likes of Moore, who had played 120 minutes of international football in midweek, McKenna revealed that a number of his squad had been ill this week.

“You don’t like to make a fuss out of these things,” he said. “Of course, if you don’t win the game, it’s easy to come out and complain about that, but we’ve had quite a few boys with the flu, really.

“Leif was one of them, it was really touch and go whether he could play the game and he found it really, really difficult to breathe throughout the game. He did well today to play the 70 minutes or whatever he had.

“Harry Clarke, who came on for him was one of the other ones and there were quite a few other ones who were ill as well.

“But these things happen, it’s going round the country at the moment. I think that and the effort for Kieffer to go out there and play 60 minutes today represents the fantastic commitment that we’re seeing from these boys every week.”

It’s not the first time Town have had to grind a victory in the second half, the display at Swansea in February having been very similar, while not typical of the Blues’ usual approach to the game.

“You have to win all different ways in the Championship, and especially for us,” McKenna said.

“We’re a newly-promoted side, we’re not going to dominate every game, every minute of that game.

“I think we’ve shown in enough games, in plenty of games what our identity is, how we like to play the game. I think we showed that today in chunks of the game in the first half, how brave we were, how we imposed ourselves on the ball.

“Where we are as a team, the challenge of the league, every game’s not going to be like Sheffield Wednesday when you win 6-0 and everything goes your way and you control 90 minutes of the game.

“The boys are at full stretch, you have to show different qualities to win different games and we’ve managed to do that plenty of times and that’s why we’ve got such a strong points total and why we’ve managed this season to show so many different attributes.

“I think we built our identity in League One. Of course, we’ve worked really hard to maintain that this season.

“I think we’ve shown that in plenty of games, but we’re having to show other sides of ourselves this season and show what we can do in a really difficult league where we’re one of the teams just coming into it.

“And I think for me as a manager, that’s almost more pleasing and something to be even more proud of than maybe last season where we dominated so many games so thoroughly and even from this season, games like the last game against Sheffield Wednesday where we dominated the game from start to finish.

“Sometimes the different qualities that your group show, and we’ve needed to show them this season, that’s something to be just as proud of.”

McKenna was aware that Leicester had lost 1-0 at Bristol City earlier in the afternoon and that Monday’s opponents Southampton drew 1-1 at home to Middlesbrough.

“Yes, there’s not much to do in the hotel, to be honest!” he smiled. “So, once we had our prep done this morning, managed to watch a bit of the game, the lunchtime fixture, as we would any other week.

“I don’t think, I know, it had no bearing whatsoever on our preparation, our mindset for this game.”

Asked whether he’d watch the Leeds-Watford game later in the evening on the coach on the way home, he said: “Probably not, to be honest. I think I’ll spend my time between watching a bit of this game back and probably Netflix!”