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Kieran McKenna admits tired Ipswich Town side did not play well against Rotherham United at Portman Road

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna admitted his tired side did not play well as they defeated rock-bottom Rotherham United 4-3 at Portman Road on Tuesday night.

However, McKenna praised his team for once again finding a way to win, Omari Hutchinson smashing in the winner in the fifth minute of injury time, a minute after the Millers had levelled from the penalty spot.

The win takes the Blues up to third in the table, behind second-placed Leeds United on goal difference alone.

Manager Kieran McKenna could not fault his side’s effort. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Manager Kieran McKenna could not fault his side’s effort. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“It was a bit of a wild game, wasn’t it?” McKenna said.

“We didn’t manage to get the control we would have wanted to get in the game.

“Of course, it wasn’t a good start and from that moment you’d say we probably never regained our composure in the game.

Kieran McKenna described last night’s game as ‘wild’. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Kieran McKenna described last night’s game as ‘wild’. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“But having said that, we’ve scored four goals at home, we’ve found a way to win the game.

“Every game in the Championship is tough, I knew it was going to be a tough game and the players have found a way to come out on top again and credit to them for that.”

Regarding the penalty, given for an alleged foul by Kayden Jackson on Peter Kioso, McKenna felt the decision was harsh on first viewing and was asked at that point whether he felt it was an opportunity missed with the Saints having lost 2-1 at home to Hull City.

“I didn’t think it was on the sideline but I haven’t seen it [again], to be fair,” McKenna said.

Kieran McKenna admitted his side did not play well. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Kieran McKenna admitted his side did not play well. Picture: Barry Goodwin

“I thought it was soft at the time but I haven’t seen it closer up, so the referee [Keith Stroud] has a better view than me.

“Not a major opportunity missed,“ he reflected. “I felt like it was coming in terms of the flow of the game. We weren’t managing to keep control of the ball, we were pinned into our box and random things can happen at that point.

“Having said that, I didn’t think we had many chances against us, the two goals were just individual errors and a penalty which wasn’t really a dangerous situation, so I didn’t think we had many chances against us.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna thought there was a tiredness element to his side. Picture: Phil Ham
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna thought there was a tiredness element to his side. Picture: Phil Ham

“But we didn’t have the game where we wanted it and when you defend in your box in the way that we were for the last 10 or 20 minutes, then there’s always a chance something can fall the wrong way and they got the penalty, you thought it was going to be one of those nights.

“But again, credit to the players, it would be easy just to lie on the floor at that moment at 3-3 and give up on the game or maybe even come under pressure against your goal because they’ve got all the momentum of coming back from 3-1.

“But we found the spirit to win the ball back, launch another attack and produce a moment of real quality to go and win the game.”

Quizzed on how significant the result could be going forward, McKenna said: “In terms of the points totals, who knows where we end up. For me, it feels more like there are lessons to be learnt tonight for everyone, if I’m honest.

“There are 13 games left, one of the big messages coming into tonight was that we need to keep tension out of the stadium, out of the performance. We knew it was a different type of game tonight, a game where people are coming expecting us to win.

“And that creates a different type of atmosphere, but we knew it was going to be a tough game. Rotherham have taken points off of Leeds, they took points off Southampton, it’s not that long ago they were much better placed than us.

“I haven’t done the maths, but they have a lot of Championship experience and quality in their team, so we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game.

“More so than the points, of course the points are much appreciated, every point in the league is hard-fought, so to get three tonight is really, really nice, but I think it’s taking the lessons from the performance.

“There’s such a long way to go in the season and we can’t afford to let the tension come into the game that there was.

“We got off to the worst possible start, we conceded a really poor goal with individual errors in there.

“But that’s football. We’ve got a young team, we’ve got a young backline, we’ve got a lot of players playing their first season of Championship football and certainly competing at the top of Championship football, so we’re going to make mistakes.

“From there, we have to do better in terms of keeping the tension out of the game, out of the atmosphere, out of everything.

“I know it’s not easy but we have to try our very utmost to, as I’ve said all along, just keep enjoying the challenges and enjoy the games ahead of us, enjoy the experience, enjoy the season that we’re having and perform as well as we can.

“We didn’t manage to do that tonight. Thankfully we found the spirit to still come out with a result, but I think going into the next games, we need to do our utmost to try and get back to that.”

McKenna felt his team showed signs of fatigue in the second half with games having come thick and fast.

“No doubt about it, the third game in seven days, we played Wednesday night at Millwall, Wednesday-Saturday-Tuesday is tough and two tough away games in there and playing on a very, very muddy pitch on Saturday night,” he said.

“There was definitely a tiredness element to the second half and especially when the flow of the game goes as it does.

“Again, we found a way. I can’t fault the effort, we didn’t play well, but I can’t fault the effort, we defended and saw off a lot of set plays. The players give a lot of effort to the game under a lot of fatigue and under difficult circumstances and we found a way to get the three points.”

The late goal was hardly the first time his team have shown their comeback credentials this season.

“Massive credit deserved,” he added. “Even in the first half, from a defensive point of view, I don’t think we ever really regained our composure after the first goal, but from an attacking point of view, we’ve gone and scored three goals and we could have had four or five. Every time we got the ball, we looked a threat.

“Of course, that was part of the strategy. Rotherham went man-to-man over the pitch, that usually tends to make it a really scrappy and physical game, but you know if you can get one second ball, one connection, secure one ball, then you’ve almost got a one-v-one, and the first half felt like that.

“To concede so early and to be 3-1 up at half-time was a big credit. I actually thought we regained our composure at half-time pretty well, I thought the start of the second half was fine, thought we got good control of the game again.

“But then we made an error for the second goal and then it’s a really, really tense last 20 minutes, but again, they’ve found a way at 3-3.

“It doesn’t happen by accident and I think this group of players deserve enormous credit.”

Skipper Sam Morsy said earlier in the week that there’s still more to come from the team and McKenna was asked what might be preventing them from hitting those levels.

“I don’t think it was meant in that way,” he said. “I think more so that we’re integrating new players into the team.

“The centre forward position is really important for us and we’ve lost the centre forward who played almost every game in the calendar year of 2023 [George Hirst] and we’re integrating a new striker into the team.

“We’re integrating Ali [Al-Hamadi] and Lewis [Travis] and Jeremy [Sarmiento] as well, and that takes time.

“I think that’s just a natural process and also a big bit of culture is to keep believing that we can improve, we can keep performing and we can always get better.

“Again, I think the level of performances individually and collectively deserve enormous credit, but I really like Samy’s sentiment in terms of striving to be better and striving to keep improving individually and as a team.”

McKenna was asked if that was also a statement to Leeds and Southampton, Town’s rivals for the automatic promotion spot.

“No, it definitely won’t have been a statement to anyone else,” McKenna smiled. “It’s the things we speak about every day, the things we speak about after games like today. It’s things we’ll speak about tomorrow. It’s the messages we try and spread every day.

“When you get those messages reflected back to you by the playing group and by the captain, that’s always a big positive.”

Right-back Harry Clarke came off with a knock in the second half and McKenna says he’s not sure the severity of the problem: “An impact injury on his leg. I’ve not had a run through on it yet.”

Striker Kieffer Moore, who netted his first Portman Road goal against his former loan club, was also feeling an injury in the first half but was able to carry on.

“He took a couple of big knocks, I think he took a knock on his knee, but I’ve not spoken to him after the game,” McKenna said.

“He carried on through the game, I’m not sure he was 100 per cent, but he gave us his all as he does and we’ll see how he recovers in the next few games.”