Chaplin on McKenna's 'hidden messages' and 'touching' Pompey ovation

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna gives instructions to Conor Chaplin during a break in play.

Conor Chaplin has praised Kieran McKenna's input since taking over at Portman Road - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Conor Chaplin has hailed boss Kieran McKenna’s influence as the Blues continue their fight to break into the League One promotion picture. 

Town head into this weekend’s clash with in-form Portsmouth just three points back from the top six, a gap which stood at 10 when McKenna led Ipswich into action for the first time in December. 

There’s plenty more work to do, but Chaplin believes his manager’s work has helped shape a winning football team and an enjoyable working environment as they chase down their target. 

“I can’t speak highly enough of the boss and the impact he’s had on the squad and on me personally,” said Chaplin. 

MK Dons vs Ipswich Town

Chaplin is enjoying life at Ipswich - Credit: Ross Halls

“I think you could speak to every single lad in the changing room and they’d say the same thing, which is a rarity in football. If you’re not playing, you tend to be a little sour but that’s not the case here. 

“It’s all positive. Not just the way he carries himself but on the training pitch as well he’s brilliant. In meetings he’s excellent, so everyone’s really enjoying it and it’s a really happy camp. 

“You can see that in the results and our form but we’re all together, which is massive at this time of the season. 

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“His attention to detail is great and all of our sessions are put on to replicate game situations and intensity as well as tactical things for the games. Everything he does has a hidden meaning or a message that maybe you might not think about until after the game. 

“In terms of coming into training every day, it’s probably the most I’ve enjoyed at any club I’ve been to because the sessions are brilliant and the morale is really good. 

“It’s not easy to make each session so enjoyable as well as being really valuable.” 

Discussing Town’s chances of making the top six during the final nine matches of the campaign, Chaplin said: “I think our chances are good. 

“As soon as the boss came in, we had a chat about where we need to be and we’re on track. You can look short-term at the draws with Cheltenham (0-0) and Morecambe (1-1) but we’re on track, so the camp’s feeling really good. 

“Everyone’s excited for the weekend and a couple of big games coming up. The last nine games we have are all going to be big games. 

“One of the reasons we’ve been so successful under the boss is that we’ve taken each game as it comes. We’ve looked at the next challenge, tactical and physical, and that’s been the recipe for our form and consistency, as well as plenty of other things as well. 

Conor Chaplin and Wes Burns pictured after the 3-0 victory over Burton Albion.

Conor Chaplin and Wes Burns pictured after the 3-0 victory over Burton Albion. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

“That’s been crucial. We’re not looking further than Portsmouth.” 

Town’s success under McKenna has been built on clean sheets, with 10 coming in the Northern Irishman’s 14 games in charge, but the Blues are likely to be without George Edmundson this weekend after he limped out of Tuesday’s victory over Lincoln. 

His absence will break up a settled back three, which has so far started each of McKenna’s games, while skipper Sam Morsy is also an injury doubt after exiting Tuesday’s win early. 

Chaplin is confident Town’s squad can cope, though. 

“From the outset he said very early on that the first team he picked isn’t going to be the team in March or April,” Chaplin said. “He said the squad would be massive for us because the games come so quickly. 

“We’ve been lucky with injuries, really, and the strength in depth we have is good because the club invested well. It’s time for that to come through now and show itself. 

“Fingers crossed they are both ok and not as bad as first feared. We’ll wait and see. But at the moment we’re just thinking about the boys who are ready and training well.” 

This weekend’s game sees Chaplin come up against his boyhood club, with the Town attacker coming through the Fratton Park youth system before making 122 senior appearances. 

He received a standing ovation from his former club’s fans when he was substituted, having scored, in Town’s 4-0 win at Pompey in October. But, despite retaining a real interest in Danny Cowley’s side’s fortunes, there is no mistaking where the attacker’s loyalties lie these days. 

Conor Chaplin after the final whistle at Portsmouth

Conor Chaplin after the final whistle at Portsmouth applauding the Town fans. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

“I was touched by it massively,” he said of the ovation he received. 

“I’d been back there and scored previously as well with Barnsley but we lost that day, so the fans were singing Portsmouth songs and things like that. 

“At the time (of Town’s win) I think they were in the bad place, the opposite to now, and I think it was a bit tongue in cheek to sing their song for me and maybe send a message to the players on the pitch playing for them at the time. 

“But it was amazing. All my family were in the away end, which was a rarity, and it was special.  

“I have a very good relationship with the Portsmouth fans and it was maybe one of the best moments I’ve had on a football pitch. Or walking around the football pitch after I came off, anyway. 

Portsmouth's Conor Chaplin celebrates with the fans after the Sky Bet League Two match at Meadow Lan

Portsmouth's Conor Chaplin celebrates with the fans after the Sky Bet League Two match at Meadow Lane, Nottingham. - Credit: PA

“They are playing really well at the moment. I still follow a lot of Portsmouth pages and journalists and they are going well. They’re just like us so I think it’s going to be a very good game.  

“I think they have fallen on a shape and way of playing which works for them – just like us really – and they’ve just got cooking. 

“It’s going to be a really exciting game.”