'I feel like a footballer again' - star man Jackson on the tough times at Town, nearly leaving and McKenna's influence
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
If it wasn’t for Kieran McKenna, Kayden Jackson could very easily be at the end of his Ipswich Town road by now.
But, with the help of the new Blues boss, he’s excited for the future.
The striker was a revelation for Town as he inspired yesterday’s 3-0 victory over Burton, opening the scoring just 43 seconds into a game in which he would go on to assist Ipswich’s second and third goals, as McKenna’s men ran out comfortable winners.
The Northern Irishman has brought Jackson in from the cold, handing the striker five League One appearances already, when it looked as though he was surplus to requirements.
Jackson had played just 19 minutes of league football under Paul Cook this season, after the former Town boss had tried to offload him in the summer, while the 2020/21 campaign saw him score just one goal and spend time banished from Paul Lambert’s first-team to the Under 23s.
“It’s not been the best of times recently but thankfully the gaffer is here now and he’s helped me confidence-wise,” Jackson said, speaking after his man-of-the-match display.
“I’ve got my edge back and I feel good. It’s tough when you’re not playing or being part of it and, at times, you don’t feel like you really play for the team. It’s been a strange time but thankfully I’ve got my missus and my little boy who have kept me focussed. They have probably taken the brunt of things at times. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to come home happy from a game.
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“I’d been out of the team for a long spell and, at times, at looked as though I would probably leave, but thankfully the gaffer has come in and given me the opportunity.
“He empowers you. I’ve not had this feeling since I was at Accrington with John Coleman (before joining Town in 2018), when each week I went out there and felt on top of the world. Untouchable. The gaffer’s given me a bit of that feeling back.
"I feel like a footballer again and everything that comes with it like the preparation and recovery. Being part of a winning team is what you work for.
“He (McKenna) wants me to do what I do well. Other managers in the past have concentrated on what I can’t do, rather than what I can do. That’s probably why I haven’t played at times and maybe haven’t been used to my strengths.
“He’s told me there aren’t many better in the league at playing on the shoulder and getting in behind.”
Jackson is out of contract in the summer and, until recently, looked almost certain to move on. It’s a situation he’d become accustomed to.
“If I’m brutally honest I thought I’d be gone in the last three windows,” Jackson joked.
“A lot has gone on. In the summer I was told I was surplus to requirements and that didn’t work out, but I firmly believe that wherever you are you work hard. I think I’ve done that a few times since I’ve been here.
“I’ve been out of the picture but got my head down and work hard. In the end, the hard work pays off.
“I want to be part of things because there’s only one direction this club is going now, thankfully. It hasn’t really looked like that during the few years I’ve been here.
“All I want to do is work under the manager because I know how much he can improve me as a player.”
Jackson’s rapid start against the Brewers saw the forward drive to the edge of the visitors’ box before letting off a left-footed shot which skidded off the turf and into the bottom corner.
He’d set his side on their way to victory inside a minute, but it was his excellent work during his remaining 80 minutes on the pitch which ultimately earned him a standing ovation as he left the field with 10 minutes to go.
“It’s always really special,” he said of the reception he received.
“The crowd are only reacting to what I’ve done and I’ve been able to put in a positive performance and give them something to cheer. Hopefully I can do that plenty more times.
“This wasn’t the winning goal at Wembley so there’s a long way to go, but it’s a day I’m really happy to be a part of.
“It’s another three points to take us a step closer to where we want to be,” he continued.
“We’re not going to get too carried away but it’s three goals and another three points with a clean sheet, so plenty of positives to build on.
“The gaffer told us, just before we went out, that he wanted us to be positive in our first runs, first shots or first tackles. Just be positive.
“So that stuck in my head and when Wes (Burns) found me in the pocket I drove towards goal. Maybe it was a fortunate strike because I’ve hit better, but I found out today that accuracy beats speed and power.”
Jackson now appears to be a firm part of a Town squad fighting to make the League One play-offs, with the gap to the top six now only four points with 13 matches remaining.
“Our start to the season was a mile away from what we should have managed and we should have a lot more points than we have, but that’s one of those things,” the striker said.
“We’re working hard every day together.
“In the time the gaffer’s been here there’s been more positives than not and personally I feel a part of things again, which is good.
“Now it’s down to me to repay the faith he’s shown in me.”