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Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna accepts they did not defend well enough in closing stages of defeat at Cardiff City

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna admitted his team could have done better to defend Cardiff City’s late spell of pressure which led to the Bluebirds netting twice in injury time to claim a 2-1 victory in the Sky Sports televised lunchtime kick-off.

The promotion-chasing Blues had been on course for a seventh straight win after Kieffer Moore had scored against his old club in a result which would have seen them end the day a point behind Sky Bet Championship leaders Leicester City who were held 2-2 at Hull City instead of trailing Leeds United.

Moore had given Town the lead in the 79th minute with his sixth goal for the club but Ryan Wintle and Callum O’Dowda grabbed goals in the fifth and 10th minutes of injury time to turn the game around, the Bluebirds having been little threat during the second half until the match moved into added-on time.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side’s winning run halted late on in south Wales Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna saw his side’s winning run halted late on in south Wales Picture: Barry Goodwin

Earlier in the week the Blues had won 3-2 at home to Bristol City via Leif Davis’s 89th-minute goal but this time the boot was on the other foot.

“And probably even later and even tougher,” McKenna reflected ruefully. “That’s football.

“We did really well, I think, in the second half to take control, get the goal and put ourselves in a commanding position on 90 minutes.

“If the game finishes there, I think we’d be talking about a really a strong away performance. But it doesn’t end there and in the last 10 minutes we weren’t able to do what we needed to do in terms of defending our box, in terms of seeing off the crosses and the deliveries they were always going to put in our box.

“So it means we’re on the wrong end of a really disappointing finish to the game. But we’ve had it the other way plenty of times this season. Over the course of a season, you’re very likely going to have to taste both sides of it.

“We’ve had to taste both sides of it this week and today it went against, and that’s disappointing. But we’ll learn from it, we’ll learn from that feeling as well as the good feelings we’ve had so many times and we’ll be strong for it.”

Asked to assess the injury time, which went on for four minutes beyond the eight initially indicated by the fourth official, largely for an injury to Moore after a clash of heads with Dimitrios Goutas, McKenna said: “My focus at the moment is on what we can own and what we can control. The eight minutes and the fact it went over eight minutes, I haven’t given any thought to yet.

“If you ask me now, I’d say it is inconsistent this year. There are times when it seems to be really high and other times when it seems to be low and if you asked me on the sideline, I wouldn’t be able to guess within a couple of minutes’ margin probably what is going to go up.

“But honestly, I’ve not thought about that until now. My thought has been on us and what we could have done differently, what we could have done better.

“We finished with a really attacking team on the pitch, there’s no doubt about that, we made a lot of positive changes at 0-0 away from home, I think that’s reflective of our mentality and it’s served us so well this year and it was part of us getting the 1-0.

“But that means that having used the four subs, we had a lot of attacking players on the pitch to see the game out with. Kieffer was then at the point of exhaustion, so that meant another strong set-play defender had to come off the pitch.

“I think we can say personnel-wise, we can say we weren’t at our strongest to see a game out away from home against Cardiff and the best set-piece team in the league.

“But other than that, we can still do better. We can do better in terms of getting out to the ball, in terms of blocking crosses and stopping the ball coming into our box.

“And we’ll look at that and we’ll feel the feelings from today and try and do better in that scenario.

“But if we’re honest as well, there’s a luck element in football that you can’t always account for.

“The ball’s going to come in your box in the last 10 minutes and the two goals today, certainly on the second goal the ball bounces two or three times, every time it bounces in a Cardiff direction we’ve got the bodies there.

“The first goal, we need to do a little bit better with, but it ricochets and bounces to a Cardiff player. Sometimes the luck in those situations doesn’t go your way, but certainly our main reflection will be on the things we can control, the things we could have done better.”

Quizzed on whether he had been involved in many 100-minutes-plus matches this season, he recalled: “That’s where it is erratic this season, I have to say. We had plus-13 at the start of the year [at Sunderland], there have been some games this year where there have been lots of stoppages and you’ll maybe get plus-five, and there have been other games where there have been less.

“Today, I’ve not reflected on it or checked the ball-in-play time, so I can’t say it was wrong. It is a little bit inconsistent, but it is what it is and it’s not our main focus now.”

McKenna felt there was an infringement on left-back Davis in the incident which led to the corner from which Cardiff scored their winning goal.

“It looked like it was a foul on Leif from where I am,” he said. “But I’m not going to waste too much energy moaning about the things we can’t control in that.

“We’ll look at how we could have defended the corner better, but it was very late in the game and it looked like a foul.”

Prior to Cardiff’s late goals, it had looked like it was going to be Town striker Moore’s day, the Wales international having put the Blues in front with his sixth goal in eight starts and one sub appearance 11 minutes from the scheduled end.

“It did,” McKenna continued. “It was a really good what would have been a winning goal. A really good finish and he battled really hard for the team and he went pretty much to the last ounce of effort that he had, so it’s a shame that we weren’t able to see the game out for the whole group, for the supporters and for Kieffer as well.

“He has quite a nasty cut just above his eye. He’s a tough lad, so I’m sure he’ll be there next week.”

McKenna believed Town were worthy of their goal when it came: “I thought we deserved the goal on the way the second half was going.

“First half, you know coming here when they’re fresh in the early stages of the game that you’re going to have to defend some set plays. They’re a big threat from those, most of their chances and incidences are from those situations.

“I still thought we were relatively in control in the first half but still we didn’t defend a couple of moments well enough.

“But in the second half, I thought, not necessarily doing anything different, more sticking to what we do, really taking control of the game, our fitness comes into the game.

“We took the game to them, pretty much the whole game was in the Cardiff half of the pitch from 45 to 90 minutes.

“Of course, they’re still not easy to create chances against because they defend their box really well, but I really liked the way we built the pressure without opening up too much, just squeezed and squeezed a little bit more until we got the first goal and put ourselves in a great position in the game.

“We’ve been very good at seeing games out this year. Today we weren’t able to be, so that’s the only real disappointment in the game.”

Might the defeat, only Town’s fifth in the league this season, prove a costly slip-up in the promotion race with the Blues now third, one point behind Leeds United following the Whites’ 2-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday last night?

“Who knows?” McKenna reflected. “We’re not focusing or thinking about a promotion race, to be honest, we’re just thinking about ourselves, our journey, the next game, trying to come here and do as well as we can today.

“Bits of the performance we could have improved but I think it was a strong second half and whether we won today, drew today or unfortunately lost today, it wouldn’t change anything that we focus on or work on next week at the training ground.

“It will just be improving ourselves and getting ready for Sheffield Wednesday next week and delivering a performance and trying to win the next game, and that’s what we’ll do for the next nine [matches].”