'A highly charged effort' - McGreal on 1-1 draw against Sunderland

Caretaker manager John McGreal about to bring on Conor Chaplin.

Caretaker manager John McGreal about to bring on Conor Chaplin. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town interim boss John McGreal says he is proud to have 'steadied the ship' for incoming manager Kieran McKenna.

The Blues drew 1-1 at home against Sunderland this afternoon after James Norwood's headed opener was cancelled out by Nathan Broadhead's leveller early in the second half.

It may not have been a win, but the home fans within a bumper Portman Road crowd of 29,002 stood at the end to applaud a fired-up, front foot, highly-competitive performance from the boys in blue.

When it was put to McGreal that it was a fine response following Wednesday night (an embarrassing FA Cup defeat at Barrow), he quipped: "What happened Wednesday?!

"This is an add-on from Wigan (spirited 1-1 draw last weekend). We felt we could have nicked it at Wigan and we did more than enough there today to win a game of football.

"It's just ironing out those little slots. There was that 10-15 minute spell when they equalised, but I thought our boys got back on the front foot.

"We knew 30,000 fans were going to come. We know how well they (Sunderland) are performing. So we had to go and squash them.

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"Everyone was on the front foot, we went man to man and we stood up. Every player, even the subs coming on, put in an unbelievable performance.

Incoming manager Kieran McKenna speaking with Ipswich Towns Chief Executive Officer Mark Ashton duri

Incoming manager Kieran McKenna speaking with Ipswich Towns Chief Executive Officer Mark Ashton during the Sunderland game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

"When you get your fans turning out in big, big numbers, you see all the flags, you get excited by it. We set a plan out throughout the week to be on the front foot. It was a bit different last week at Wigan, where we set off in a little bit of a block, and that worked to a tee. This high press worked to a tee as well. And I thought there was some quality throughout, I really did. 

"Second half we were getting in and around it but were lacking a little bit in that final third towards the end. But I thought we looked dangerous throughout. We looked a really potent and fit team."

With newly appointed manager McKenna and his assistant Martyn Pert watching from the stands, along with visiting US-based owners Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer, McGreal said: "The new gaffer addressed the boys before the match and that obviously gave a bit of a bounce. I'm sure him and Martyn will be pleased. It gives him plenty of food for thought.

"He told me yesterday he wasn't getting involved in the team selection or any prep. He just asked if he could come in and introduce himself to the boys at half one and I said 'absolutely, it's your team now gaffer'.

"He knows what he's got to work with. And he's coming in now knowing full well the fans are here. It's just now about turning those draws into wins."

Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay celebrate James Norwoods first half goal.

Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay celebrate James Norwoods first half goal. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

McGreal continued: "I think this year the fans have been unbelievable - 21-22 thousands consistently, nearly 30,000 today, there will be more big crowds between Christmas and New Year. They are here to stay. 

"I didn't think I'd get the chance to take charge of a home game, so it's a proud moment. When you walk out and you see all those flags, then the noise when we started... It brings back memories of the Premier League days. It was unbelievable. And they kept with us.

"When we equalised we could have all dropped our heads, but credit to the boys they got back on the front and pressed high. They have to keep working hard. That should be a given.  

"There's been new ownership, now there' a new manager in place. It looks happy times. The January window is around the corner - we don't know what might happen then.

"There is a lot of positives at the moment."

Matt Penney battling with Lynden Gooch.

Matt Penney battling with Lynden Gooch. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

McGreal will now return to the role he was originally appointed to - assisting Kieron Dyer with the Under-23s and doing some broader coaching within the academy.

"I was here to help while (chief executive) Mark (Ashton) and his team were working to get the right guy in," he said.

"We feel as though we've done that.

"We've had three of probably the hardest fixtures in the season against ex Premier League clubs. Charlton away (2-0 loss) we didn't perform after 20 minutes, don't get me wrong. Then Wigan last week we felt we should have nicked it at the end after a solid performance. Today, Sunderland, who are flying high, we should be coming away with the win.

"So we've come in, steadied the ship, got the guys playing with an enthusiasm.

"Wednesday (at Barrow), yeah, it's one you put in the bin unfortunately. But now the focus is on the bread and butter of the league. 

"We've had a couple of good draws against top teams in this division and there's a bit of a bounce with the new manager coming in to go and win more games of football."

Wes Burns is clipped by Ross Stewart.

Wes Burns is clipped by Ross Stewart. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

He continued: "I said to you after the game on Wednesday that I had no doubt these guys would bounce back. 

"I'm really proud of the performance. We can take a lot from the fact we were much the better side against a rival team. 

"A hundred per cent the season is still alive. There's 20-odd games left. We just need to turn the draws into wins. I think Sunderland have shown, since the last time we played them, how things can quickly change. Charlton have done exactly the same. You get a win-win, those two Ws on the bounce, and everything changes. We can easily do that.

"There's a lot to build on."

McGreal opted to start with the wing-back system that he switched to at half-time against Barrow. 

"We've thought about that from day one but felt we couldn't do that change of system straight away," he explained. "We looked at the squad and it just looks suited for that system. 

"We did it (in the second half) the other night (against Barrow). I've looked back at that game and I enjoyed some of the football in the second half because a lot of it was in their defensive third. We just felt we had to be on the front foot today. The two boys up top, the two in midfield... man-for-man, go and win your battle and play from there. It was a simple task and we executed it."

Macauley Bonne congratulates James Norwood after his goal.

Macauley Bonne congratulates James Norwood after his goal. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Wes Burns returned to the team for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury in mid-November. His direct running from the right wing-back role had fans on the edge of their seats throughout.

"He's a joy," enthused McGreal. "He was trying to get involved last week so we've been really putting the reins on him. To play and last like that with the time he's been out with his hamstring is credit to how he's kept himself in condition and the backroom staff as well.

"That was a highly charged effort today from the boys today and he was focal to it. Him and Matt Penney were focal to the front foot press."

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