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Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna pleased with second-half performance at Leicester City





Town boss Kieran McKenna said he really liked his side’s performance in the second half, as they drew 1-1 away against leaders Leicester City last night.

The team showed a real conviction after a first period in which the Blues manager admitted they had been unable to impose themselves on the game.

Jeremy Sarmiento netted an 89th-minute equaliser to seal the point after a Leif Davis own-goal had given the Foxes the lead just after the half hour.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna thought his side did not impose themselves in the first half Picture: Phil Ham
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna thought his side did not impose themselves in the first half Picture: Phil Ham

“I think the second half was much more like ourselves and we can take a lot of confidence and a lot of lessons from that, and I thought on the balance of the second half, we probably deserved to get something from the game,” he said.

“The first half was difficult. I don’t think we managed to impose ourselves on the game as we would have liked to and we didn’t play with the conviction on or off the ball that we would like to.

“But it’s a big step up, there’s no doubt about it, and I think it felt like that in the first half for the players on the pitch.

Manager Kieran McKenna ‘really liked’ the second half Picture: Barry Goodwin
Manager Kieran McKenna ‘really liked’ the second half Picture: Barry Goodwin

“It’s a big step up in terms of the level of the opponent and we’ve come a long way in a short space of time.

“But I really liked the second half, there was a real conviction in the dressing room at half-time that we might lose the game, but we were going to do our utmost to play in our identity and if we were going to lose, we were going to do it in our style. And I thought the second half was much closer to that, I thought it was a good game.

“Of course, there’s a chance that they get the second goal when the game really opens up, but I also thought that we had enough chances and really good situations that should have been chances if we’d had been a little bit more clinical to deserve something from the game.”

Sarmiento, who joined the Blues on loan from Brighton earlier in the month, became the latest Town substitute to score a vital goal, something which has been a regular feature of McKenna’s Town over the last couple of years.

Manager Kieran McKenna described Jeremy Sarmiento as a ‘really talented player on the ball’ Picture: Barry Goodwin
Manager Kieran McKenna described Jeremy Sarmiento as a ‘really talented player on the ball’ Picture: Barry Goodwin

“It’s a been a common thing since I’ve been here,” he reflected. “I think the forward players in our team know that it’s very, very rare that they’re going to play 90 minutes.

“We try and play with an intensity that’s hard to maintain for 90 minutes and everyone in the squad knows that, especially in those forward areas, if you don’t start, there’s a very good chance that you’re going to come on in the decisive part of the game and have a big impact.

“That was the case last season as well and certainly was the case tonight. We knew that it was going to be a big physical effort. We started with as much physicality in the team as we could, really.

Kieran McKenna was pleased with Ipswich Town’s second-half performance Picture: Barry Goodwin
Kieran McKenna was pleased with Ipswich Town’s second-half performance Picture: Barry Goodwin

“And we knew that if we managed to stay in the game, ideally ahead or level but in the worst case if we were just behind, we knew that we had really good impetus that could come off the bench and really take the game to the opposition in the late stages and get a goal if we needed to, and that’s how it transpired.”

Regarding the goal, he added: “It’s good habits to follow it in and it was quite an awkward one because he had to jump to get over the ball to try and get it down, so he did well to get it on target and I’m pleased that it just managed to slip in.”

Sarmiento has made an impressive start to his time with the Blues, making three bright substitute appearances so far, although McKenna says the Ecuadorian international, who spent the first half of the season on loan at West Brom, came close to a full Town debut.

Jeremy Sarmiento scored an 89th-minute equaliser against Leicester City Picture: ITFC/Matchday Images
Jeremy Sarmiento scored an 89th-minute equaliser against Leicester City Picture: ITFC/Matchday Images

“We really like him, we’ve liked him for quite a long time, to be fair, and tried to bring him to the club in other windows as well,” he said.

“We’re glad that he’s here. He’s had little knocks since the Sunderland game, so other than that, there was a good chance he would have started tonight but it was considered better for him to come off the bench and he’s bringing us good things.

“There’s still always a process to adapt to the intensity that we train and work at to start games, but we don’t think he’s far away and he’s certainly a really talented player on the ball.

“But I think what’s more important sometimes and what really endears you to the supporters and to the group is the commitment that you show off the ball, and he’s shown that from the get-go really, which is a made it really for the players to take to him, as they have.”

Town have now taken 21 points from losing positions and McKenna was asked what be believed that was down to.

“Different things,” the Northern Irishman considered. “I think coming back a lot and not losing many games, which we haven’t done, is a good reflection on the culture in the group and the togetherness in the group.

“In general, there’s a real belief in how we play and what we do and a belief that if we do that for 90-plus minutes then we’ll give ourselves a good chance to win games or to score goals.

“And tonight was a little bit different. I actually thought in the first half the biggest issue was that we didn’t manage to find that belief in ourselves and that conviction in ourselves.

“But we had a good chat at half-time and there was a real intent to go out in the second half and show that.

“Again, I think the players really believe that, they believe in how we train and how we work and if we stick to the plan and try and do the right things for 90 minutes, we can score more goals than the opposition quite regularly.

“The players have been through a good bit with the group now and when new players come into the group now, they’re initiated pretty smoothly and I think there’s generally a good belief in the group about doing the right things throughout the course of the game, believing in what we do and trusting that we’ll get the rewards more often than not.”

Southampton have now climbed above the Blues into second twice having played a day or so earlier, but on both occasions Town have pegged them back. McKenna was asked whether that sent a psychological message to the Saints and other clubs.

“That’s certainly not our radar at all, to be honest,” McKenna insisted. “Maybe for people externally, they look at things like that, but honestly we don’t mention it and I can’t see us mentioning it probably for another 15 games, possibly.

“There’s so long to go, we just have to focus on ourselves. We know that we’re 28 games in and we’re competing with teams on a points tally-wise that we’ve got no right to, really.

“Our focus remains as it always has been on just trying to perform as well as we can. We didn’t manage to do it in the first half, the second half was much better.

“We’ll learn and reflect on that and we’ll try and go out and perform as well as we can and our mantra really is just taking each game as we can, focusing on performances not results and we’ll see what the outcomes are at the end.

“We know we’re up against… we’re not up against [just them] because there are a lot of good teams in this division, but we know the three teams closest to us at the moment are abnormally strong for the division and are on course to get really, really, really high points totals.

“And if we spend any energy worrying or thinking about them, we certainly won’t have enough energy left to be as competitive as we want to be in every game, so that’s where our focus is.”

Massimo Luongo returned to the side having missed the Sunderland match after turning his ankle in training on the preceding Thursday.

“He got a couple of days’ training in before the game, so he missed a good bit of time after the Sunderland game but he’s been back in training for the last few days,” McKenna said.

“He’s a really important player for us and he’s a warrior as well, so it was good to have him back tonight.”

Quizzed on whether Town are any closer to new signings with two strikers almost certainly top of the list, McKenna said: “I’ll catch up with [CEO] Mark [Ashton] in the morning now after the game because my focus has been on this over the last few days.

“Other than that, we know what position and positions that we want to add to the squad, we have our targets, the club are working really hard within the limitations that we have and I know they’re going to work really hard to improve the squad and we feel that we need to do that just to stay competitive in this really tough league.”

McKenna confirmed that loanee full-back Brandon Williams is still with his parent club Manchester United being assessed having been injured and ill in the period prior to Christmas.

“He’s back at Man United at the moment and still being seen by their medical team,” he added. “At this stage we don’t have a definite timescale on if or when he’d be back with us.”

But McKenna says he’s keen for the 23-year-old to return to Portman Road: “If he’s fit and well, then he’s shown in his short space of time here that he can be a really good player for us and a good player at this level.

“But he hasn’t been that in a while, so the hope is now he can get back to that level and join for the later stages of the season, but we’re not sure if that’ll be the case.”