Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna left to reflect on disastrous first half in defeat at Preston North End but felt they ‘deserved something’
Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna admitted that virtually everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in the first half of his side’s 3-2 defeat to Preston North End at Deepdale.
The Blues found themselves 3-0 down at the break, the Lilywhites having been two in front in only the eighth minute via an opener from former Town striker Will Keane on five and a George Edmundson own goal. Keane added his second and the home side’s third six minutes before half-time.
McKenna’s men then staged a second-half fightback with deadline day re-signing Kieffer Moore, who is on loan from AFC Bournemouth, making his second Blues debut from the bench at half-time and scoring twice to give Town hope of another famous comeback. They continued to push in the closing minutes but eventually ran out of time.
The defeat sees them drop to fourth in the Sky Bet Championship table and two points off the automatic promotion places, with Southampton’s 2-0 victory at Rotherham United seeing them take over in second.
“It was a difficult half,” McKenna said when asked to reflect on that first period. “It’s a difficult place to come anyway but when you concede two very unfortunate goals in the first eight or nine minutes, (then it’s harder).
“The first goal was a shot from probably 30 yards, it takes a bit deflection and goes in the corner.
“The second goal is two yards offside, it’s so clear, it can’t not be given by the linesman. I think George (Edmundson) has made an aggressive decision to step up, but the right decision when the striker’s two yards offside. The linesman can’t miss it.
“You’re 2-0 down after eight minutes, it’s the worst situation it can be because Preston can then defend, they can defend their box with a lot of bodies.
“Of course, we lacked a little bit in the final third and our play in the final third wasn’t at the level that we wanted it to be.
“We lacked the profile and the presence in the final third as well but that was exaggerated by the scoreline, that completely dictated the tone and feel of the game. Preston were able to feel like they were doing well in the game because they had the goals.
“A difficult first half. But at half-time, honestly, my feeling was that we were right still in the game. I didn’t think on the balance of play that certain things were too far off but we needed to improve in the final third and we needed to not have anything else go against us.
“We certainly did that in the second and produced a really good performance that I think would have deserved to get something from the game.”
McKenna dismissed any suggestion of a hangover following last week’s FA Cup exit to National League South Maidstone.
“No, I honestly don’t think it is,” he insisted. “We weren’t ourselves and, of course, the goals we need to own and look at, but the second goal for me is officiating. The first goal is a large, large chunk of misfortune, but we can still do better on our blocking technique.
“I think when you’re 2-0 down away to Preston with the type of team we are with the profile of players we had on the pitch, it’s always going to be a difficult half.”
Regarding double goalscorer Moore, who found the net for the first time in a Town shirt seven years after initially signing, having made 11 sub appearances during his previous spell at the club, McKenna said: “He showed straight away what we’ve been missing, to be fair, probably since George (Hirst) has been out in terms of a physical profile in the top line that creates space for others and also gives us a target in the box to play into or to cross to.
“And his impact was there for all to see. He was excellent and it gives us something to really build on next week.”
The Blues boss says he didn’t consider starting the on-loan AFC Bournemouth man, who only joined the club on Thursday afternoon ahead of that evening’s deadline or making changes in the first half, despite the scoreline.
“Not really, to be honest,” he said. “You can always take the gamble but I don’t think it would have been the right thing to do. He hadn’t trained with the group and he’s here for the next 17 games to have an impact, not just for the first half today, so we weren’t overly tempted by that.”
Town’s other new striker signing Ali Al-Hamadi was also lively when he came off the bench in the second half.
“He was, he showed some of his dynamism in the final third and his physicality around the box,” McKenna added.
“Good to get him on the pitch as well and we had so many chances in the second, were such a threat and the supporters behind the goal were fantastic and the only shame was that we weren’t able to get the next goal.”
This Town side has shown their spirit to come back in plenty of games under McKenna and this was no exception, even if they fell short on this occasion.
“I think it’s a day where in the first half pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong and we were 3-0 down at a really tough stadium,” he reflected.
“But the players have still produced a really good second half that I think deserved to get something out of the game.
“I think it says a lot. It’s disappointing not to get the win, we’ve not had as many wins lately as we would like but we’ve not lost many games.
“We are competitive every week, the group keeps fighting to the end of every game and those qualities will stand us in good stead and we’ll continue to work and come back stronger when things don’t go our way.”
Regarding Preston’s third goal, he added: “We lost a ball on build-up. I’ll fully support the players in that situation because the players involved try to do the right thing, tried to something that’s brought us success over the last two years and we didn’t quite execute it right.
“That’s never a problem with me when our intent’s right, we know the rewards of having a style and a system that we believe in and that we follow and we’ve had the successes from that and we’ll continue to have so.
“Of course, we’ll continue to work on our execution, it wasn’t easy to execute a lot of different things on the pitch today, but that’s football. Over the course of a season these things can happen.
“The time that Vaz (Vaclav Hladky) hooks it clear with his left foot and they head it back down the middle of the pitch and score never gets noticed, but the one where you lose in that situation does.
“We’ll give our full support to the players in that situation and we’ll just continue to work to get better.
“Of course, in the second half, we have the option to go over the press as well, which is important for us and is something that we like to do and we were able to utilise that well.
“We’ll continue to work on all phases in the game and on build-up continue to try and be very, very good at combining out of those situations, but also now have the option to go over the top of the pressers in those situations and find different types of attacks.”
The result sees the Blues drop to fourth but as was the case when Town were second, McKenna says he’s taking little notice of the table.
“There’s 46 games, that’s the fourth game that we’ve lost in the league this year, that’s a fantastic effort,” he said.
“We know it’s not all going to be sunny days. There are teams around us with fantastic squads in incredible form and if we use up all our energy, or any of our energy really, focusing on them and the runs that they’re on, then we won’t have the required energy to be competitive every week, which we generally have been.
“Today, we weren’t in the first half, it didn’t go the way that we wanted but over the course of 90 minutes in a tough stadium where they’ve taken points and performances from all the other teams at the top of the league as well, we still managed to produce over the course of 90 minutes a lot of good things.”
The Town manager is pleased to have a full week on the training field with his squad and particularly last week’s new signings before fifth-placed West Brom visit Portman Road next Saturday (12.30pm).
“For sure,” the Northern Irishman said. “Of course, we had the week this week but it’s a week with so much uncertainty and until four o’clock on Thursday we weren’t sure if another striker would be in the door and whether Kieffer would be in the door, there was a lot of uncertainty around that.
“Ali, as I said, hasn’t trained with the group really yet, so it will be nice now to have a full week to be able to get some training time with those boys, to look at the ways that we can integrate them into our playing style and what they can add to us and prepare and look forward to a really good game now next weekend.”