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Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna admits side were far from their best levels in derby defeat at Norwich City

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna admitted his side didn’t come anywhere near to the level they have hit in earlier games or in Monday’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Southampton in this afternoon’s disappointing 1-0 derby defeat at Norwich City, a match which he didn’t feel was of a particularly high level.

Marcelino Nunez’s 39th-minute free kick proved the winner with the Blues never showing the form which has taken them to the top of the Championship.

“I didn’t think it was our best performance by any means,” McKenna said. “We didn’t hit the level that we would have hoped to in a game that I didn’t think was a very high level, to be honest.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side fall to a sixth league defeat of the season Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side fall to a sixth league defeat of the season Picture: Barry Goodwin

“I didn’t think it was a high level game, I didn’t think it was anywhere near the level that we played earlier in the season [against Norwich] or the game on Monday, or so many of the games we’ve played this year.

“We wanted to perform better and create more chances but we didn’t manage to do that today.

“Then the game’s tight, I thought really it was just a spell in the first half of set plays and decisions that went against us and that culminated with them scoring a free kick from 30 yards, which decides the game.

“In tight games when neither team I feel is hitting the level they’ve hit in recent weeks or recent months, it’s often decided by tight margins and that can often be a set play goal, and that was the case today.”

Asked whether he had any argument with the foul given against skipper Sam Morsy which led to the goal, McKenna had more of an issue with an earlier decision against Axel Tuanzebe when the defender was adjudged to have brought down Josh Sargent just outside the box.

“The biggest one for me was the free kick against Tuanzebe, that was the more frustrating one because we had a really comfortable first 20 minutes of the game,” he recalled.

“We were in control, we weren’t hitting a fantastic level but the atmosphere was pretty quiet, we were comfortable, we hadn’t given anything away, we were in a decent place in the game.

“And that decision, which I thought was an incorrect one, really lit the crowd, lit the atmosphere and we then had 10 minutes of set play after set play, we couldn’t quite get out of that phase.

“There were one or two other decisions within that phase which were soft as well and that culminated in the decision for the goal against Samy, which was a very, very marginal one.

“I didn’t think the one on Tuanzebe was anywhere near marginal from where I was and the fourth official had the same view as me and the linesman had a better view than anybody.

“Disappointed the right decision wasn’t reached there and I felt that did have an impact on the game and that was the only part of the game either team dominated.

“But, taking away from that, our focus, as it always will be, will be on ourselves. We’ve got some really good games coming up. We’re coming off the back of a busy run of games and our focus will always be on the next game, trying to perform as well as we can.

“And, of course, looking at today and why didn’t quite hit the levels that we’d hoped to and trying to prepare to deliver a good performance on Wednesday night against Watford.”

Quizzed on why his team didn’t hit their usual levels, whether it was the number of recent games, the emotions from Monday’s last-gasp victory over Southampton or the illness which has affected a number of players over the last fortnight, McKenna said: “Probably a multitude of those things, to be honest.

“It’s the third game in a busy week, we really went to the wire in the two previous games, so those that have played both of those games, I’m sure there is a little element of that.

“I don’t think we managed to find our intensity, definitely. From a physical point of view, possibly the schedule. We’ve got some players, I’m not going to make an issue, but there are some physical issues in the camp, illness and injury, so that would have been a factor.

“And also it’s a really big game in reality with a big atmosphere and sometimes that can drain the battery a little bit as well.

“That possibly could have been the case in the first half, but that’s something that we will be stronger for. This is still a big progression for an awful lot of this group. We’ll be stronger for all these experiences. Even the ones that are bad experiences like today, we’ll be stronger for it.

“We know we’ve got tough games coming up and that’s the job now is to make sure we come out of this disappointing game, this bad result with lessons learned and go into the next game stronger.”

Striker Kieffer Moore was a concern going into the game with a back problem he suffered on Monday but McKenna says in the end there was little doubt the Wales international would play.

“He had good confidence in the end, to be honest,” he said. “Tuesday, Wednesday, he was really, really stiff and it didn’t look like it would be possible, but with a spasm it can ease up.

“Credit to the medical team, to be fair. He made good progress Thursday evening, Friday and he felt good to start and there was no risk attached to it, they felt.

“He was fine, we didn’t want to take him to 90-plus minutes today because we have lots of important games coming up and our season certainly doesn’t end today. He came through the game fine and that’s a big positive.”

McKenna had expected one or two twists and turns before the end of the season with the Blues now having back-to-back home games against Watford and Middlesbrough and Wednesday and Saturday.

“It’s great to have two home games and the schedule has been and is so busy,” he reflected. “We know from the league table that our last three away games are against Norwich, Coventry and Hull, the teams sixth, seventh and eighth, so we know the games are going to be a big challenge.

“It’s not a situation where we can go into it and think that we’re going to win every single game of the six before today or now the last five. We know it’s unlikely to be as smooth as that and all we can control is our effort and try and control as much of the performance as we can.

“If we’d have won today, it would have been a fantastic win to give the supporters, and that was the big motivation, but pretty soon after the game it would have been about mindset and bodies getting ready for Wednesday night.

“And if we’d have drawn today it would have been the same and unfortunately we were on the end of a loss. But it’s the same. Let’s deal with each game individually and then get ready for the next one and make sure we’re ready to give our best.”

McKenna admits it will be tougher to get over this defeat than others, the Blues having lost only six matches in the league this season and never having been defeated in successive league games since McKenna took charge in December 2021.

“I think that would be human nature,” he said. “I think any defeat in the later stages of the season when you’re working towards something are always a little bit tougher.

“Of course, a derby defeat is tougher, especially because we know what it means to the supporters and the biggest wish was to give them the result.

“But I think for us as professionals, we can’t afford to let that be the case, to be honest. We’ve done well with dealing with setbacks and disappointments before and we have to deal with this one.

“We know that it will hurt a little bit more for the supporters and that causes a little bit more hurt in the group.

“But as a group of players and staff, sticking together, finding the right response in training, finding the right energy for Wednesday night, these are the things that we’ve done really, really well and that’s what we’re going to endeavour to do over the next couple of days.”

McKenna was asked whether it is best to feel those emotions of games like today and Monday or to try to moderate them and stay on a level.

“I understand what you mean,” the Northern Irishman considered. “That’s part about growing as a group. Of course we all want this season to end in a really amazing and brilliant way but we’re trying to grow the team, the football club to the levels that it once was and each step along the way is a lesson that we can take from it.

“Each experience, whether it’s a fantastic one like Monday night or a very disappointing one like Saturday’s is something that we can learn from.

“This is still a group which has come a long way in a short space of time, for lots of individuals this will have been by far the biggest derby match they’ve ever played in and we’ve got some really good ones to come as well.

“Of course, experiencing the highs of Monday and so many other ones that we have, that’s fantastic, it gives you a hunger to have more of those sensations, more of those feelings.

“But also going through emotions like today, and more importantly probably really trying to reflect on what you could have controlled and changed within that, that can make you learn and make you stronger as a group as well.

“It’s not the outcome that we wanted, of course we’d rather be sitting here with a win, but I’m confident we’ll find a good way to take the lessons from this experience.”

Town failed to score for the first time since New Year’s Day at Stoke and McKenna said his side ought to have created more opportunities.

“If I’m honest, I think the spaces were there that we usually exploit really well, I just don’t think our execution in the first half was on the level,” he said.

“I won’t go into too much detail, of course, but the spaces that we look to exploit on the football pitch and the spaces that we’re usually very, very good at exploiting, I think they were there in the first half and we didn’t manage to utilise them.

“Of course, the feel of the game changes on the first goal and Norwich then defended really compact and with bodies, and especially the longer the second half went on, they were able to defend with good bodies, good organisation, with the crowd behind them and they always carried a bit of a counter threat with Josh Sargent as well.

“I think there’s nothing in particular that wasn’t available to us today, there was nothing in particular that was new today or that anyone has done to stop us, I think it was more about us not executing to our best level.”

Is there a feeling within the club that there’s some psychological block coming into these games, the wait for a derby victory now set to go into a 16th year.

“No, to be honest, there’s not,” McKenna insisted. “Of course, it’s nice to win your derby. We haven’t had one for four seasons before this one.

“I think the game at Portman Road, we played very, very well and came close to winning it and this is the second game that this group’s been through.

“It’s the first time this group of players have been to Carrow Road, so I don’t think there’s any baggage from things that have happened many years ago.

“We just didn’t hit the level required to win the game. I don’t think either team hit a particularly high level, but credit to Norwich, they found a way to come out on the right side of the margin.

“I think it just wasn’t our day and the clubs will hopefully meet again more regularly. I don’t think either of us will be spending time in League One any time soon, so it’s a good rivalry, it’s a good derby, there’ll be more matches over the next few years and I’m sure this club will have its day as well.”

Regarding the possibility that the teams could meet in the play-offs, McKenna added: “We don’t speak about the outcomes or the points totals much, but in reality we know there are two outcomes for us now because we’ve mathematically secured the play-offs.

“Of course, the incredible work that everyone has done to this point, it’s possible that we can secure an automatic place, as much as that’s going to take a record points total and all those things, it’s possible and we’ll fight for that right the last games.

“But, let’s be realistic again. At the start of the season, if we were to be in a play-off position, everyone would find that fantastic and whoever we’d have to play we know it’s going to be a good side.

“But we also know, even coming out of today, I don’t think there’s anything for us to fear in this division, that we can be a good side on our day and we’ll focus on the next five games. We’ll give every one our full attention, we’ll look forward to them and then we’ll see where we’re at.”

Positive news on Burns

Meanwhile, he said there was positive news from Wes Burns’s latest hamstring scan.

Wales international Burns underwent a second scan on the hamstring he injured against Sheffield Wednesday on Thursday.

“The scan was a positive, so no guarantees yet but we’re certainly more optimistic that we’ll see him before the end of the season,” McKenna said.