'They are more than capable of playing how I want' - McKenna's plans for first game

Kieran McKenna took charge of Ipswich Town training for the first time this morning

Kieran McKenna is preparing for his first game in charge of Ipswich Town. - Credit: ITFC

Kieran McKenna will take charge of his first game as Ipswich Town manager tomorrow night. Here's some of what he had to say ahead of the League One clash with Wycombe Wanderers.


It was a bit different. I had my family down from Manchester and we enjoyed a Christmas in the lovely Salthouse Hotel where we got very well looked after. That was a nice novelty for my kids. We had a nice walk by the seaside at Aldeburgh and have been getting to know the area a bit more. 

I’ve had a few little trips into Ipswich for some last minute Christmas shopping and had some nice meet and greets with a few of the fans. Everyone has been very positive and welcoming. You can just feel the attachment to the club and how much everyone is willing the club to do well. 


I wouldn’t say I was happy. We wanted the game on, to be honest. We respected Gillingham’s position – safety is obviously the most important thing, and the game needed to be called off – but we wanted to play. That’s what we’re here for and what we’re paid to do. We have a hungry and fit squad who are wanting to play. 

We were disappointed the game was off, but the silver linings were that everyone got a little bit more time off over Christmas with their families and, football-wise, we’ve had a few extra days to train and prepare the group, which has been good. Hopefully we’re in a good position going into tomorrow night .

Kieran McKenna and assistant Martyn Pert head out onto the training pitch at Playford Road

Kieran McKenna and assistant Martyn Pert head out onto the training pitch at Playford Road - Credit: ITFC

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It’s been what I hoped it would be. Looking in from the outside it’s a big squad and you’re wondering how the morale would be given there are a lot of players who probably haven't played as much as they would have wanted. 

All I’ve seen so far is a united group, everyone is on board, there’s been nobody going against the ethic of the group, which is important. 

The spirit seems good. The players are obviously disappointed with how the season has been going up to this point, but they are still ambitious, they still believe they can win some games and climb the table. 

In terms of the quality that’s been probably where I expected it. We have a strong squad, we have players who have played at a higher level and we have players who want to play at a higher level.  

The quality of the training, the intensity, the application has been pleasing, but I came in here with high expectations and high standards and that’s what I’ll demand of the group every day that I’m here. It’s been pleasing they’ve been able to meet those standards around the training ground so far. 


It’ll be around my decisions, for sure. I have a staff around me, and they will have their input, but I’ll ultimately make the decision. 

Obviously I got to see the Sunderland game live and up close, which was beneficial. I’ve watched the large majority of the games this season already back on video, so I feel I’ve got a good feel for what’s been going on on the pitch. 

I’ve also had a look now in training at the players, albeit only over five or six sessions so far. I’ll take all that into account. 

We’ll also look at Wycombe’s strengths and also where we think we can try and expose them and we’ll pick the team from there. 


Everyone is excited for the game. Then Lincoln will come around quick after Wycombe. 

I think I’ll be excited, of course, especially with the crowd that’s expected (26,000+). If we can generate the same atmosphere that we had before and during the Sunderland game then that will be a big boost to the players. 

But really I’ll be thinking about coaching and managing the team, how we start the game, the instructions we’ve given, how we carry that out, issues we may have in the game and any changes we may need to make. Once it comes close to kick-off for me it will be all about what’s happening on the pitch, the decisions that need to be made and doing everything we can to try and hopefully get a good result. 

New Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna pictured at Portman Road on his first day in the job

Kieran McKenna says he won't try to change too much, too soon. - Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd


Look, the base line for me, and I’ve spoken to the players very clearly about this, will be our intensity, our running, our effort, our collective spirit to be aggressive against the ball, to press in the right moments when we can to win challenges and duels and have a real intensity and aggression about us. That will be the base level of expectation. 

Obviously we know with Wycombe that it’s a tough game. They themselves are very aggressive, very direct, very good on second balls, they don’t give you a lot of chances to regain the ball high up the pitch because they play over the press a lot. They like to break the game up and play direct and want to play in your half. 

We know the challenges this game will bring, but we want that base level of effort and running and aggression and all the simple, fundamental things that make a football team. 

On top of that we want to get the ball down, we want to express ourselves, we want to have good movements and penetrations going forwards and try and create some chances, score goals and hopefully excite the crowd and give them some good play to get behind and support. 

There are things we’ve been working on that we want the players to implement. The players will be clear on our messages. So I’ll be hoping to see little things that might not always be evident to everyone on the outside. 

We know the little details that we want from the team that cumulatively over time will make the difference in games. 

We’re looking to see improvement on some of those little details. 

Yeah, we want to impose ourselves on the game but there are two teams coming to play. For sure it’s going to be a battle. 

We’ll try and make it what we want it to be and they’ll try and make it what they want it to be. That’s the battle of a football match. We’ll do everything we can to come out on top. 


It’s a big challenge to control games. I’ve seen that the team has often had spells in games for 15/20 minutes where they’ve controlled the game well, played how they wanted to play and looked how we want an Ipswich team to look. It’s just been a challenge to sustain that. But that’s the league. 

The momentum of games can change quickly, probably quicker even than the Premier League. It often only takes a moment, a set-piece, a ball into your box and the momentum and feel of the game can change. 

It’s a big challenge. We know that every team that plays against Ipswich Town, their motivation is going to be really, really high. We can’t take anything for granted. We’re not going into any game thinking our reputation or where any of our players have played before will give us any advantage whatsoever. The league is tough and we have to be ready to fight in every game, to compete in every game and be at our absolute maximum in terms of effort.  

We hope that with the right strategy, with the right team set-up, with the right team structure and with the individual quality that we have we’ll be able to turn more results in our favour. 


I think the principles are broadly the same. You can see in training that the capabilities of the players is high. They are more than capable of playing how I want to play and fulfil the tasks. 

I guess the bigger challenge is more to do with the time of the season. Obviously we’re coming in halfway and it’s not a good idea, in my opinion, to try and change completely everything in one go. 

It’s about improving little things in the first instance, improving little details and building our style of play over time. 

There’s practical things to consider like the conditions of pitches and the weather. Football can be very different in August as it is to December. 

I think our principles will be the same (as they were at Manchester United). We’ve been working on them for the first week and they’re not very different to what I would coach at high level academy football or in first team Champions League football. 

But I’m sensible enough to know we have to adapt and we need to try and get results straight away. It’s not about being draconian and imposing something that’s entirely different or unusual to what the players have been doing. 

We're trying to find that middle ground, to try and improve some things in the short-term and also lay some fundations down for how we want to be going forward. Time will help that and a pre-season will help that. I know where I want the team to be going into next season, but I’m not prepared to look beyond this season yet. It’s about preparing the team, being pragmatic in a good way and trying to give us the best chance to pick up the points at the moment.

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