'We need to trust the process' - McKenna on Gillingham win

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna looks on.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna looks on. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna admits his team are a 'work in progress', but has called upon supporters to 'trust the process' following this afternoon's hard-fought 1-0 home win against Gillingham.

The Blues dominated possession in the first half without creating any real clear cut chances from open play. Relegation-battling Gillingham then looked the team more likely to score after the restart before Conor Chaplin rifled home a 74th minute which keeps the Blues within eight points of the League One play-off places.

"It definitely wasn't the best performance, for sure," said McKenna, whose record now reads W5 L2.

"It was a tough game. We had the feeling all week that it was going to be a tough game, to be honest. There was a perception outside the group, maybe, that with the run we've been on and the run they've been on that we were maybe in for a comfortable game. But we never thought it was going to be. I watched their game Tuesday night (a 1-0 home win against Crewe) and saw the reaction Neil (Harris) got from the group. I knew they were going to come here, pack the defence, run hard, be good on their direct play and their flick-ons.

"So I knew it was going to be a big challenge. I never had the feeling all week that it was going to be a pretty one or a convincing win. 

"Obviously we can play, and we need to play, much better than we did at times today, but credit to the players. I thought their work rate, especially in the first half when we'd lost our way in the game from a technical and tactical point of view, was good. Physically we dug in, players were cramping and were tired at the end. I thought we fought our way to a clean sheet and if we fight our way to a clean sheet then we know we have the quality to score a goal even when it's not our best day."

Conor Chaplin celebrates after scoring to give Town a 1-0 lead.

Conor Chaplin celebrates after scoring to give Town a 1-0 lead. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Having described his team as 'a work in progress' during a television interview, McKenna elaborated: "We're trying to change a lot at the club and also with the players in terms of how they train and how they play.

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"There are good bits of our game at the moment. First half today was frustrating, but there were still some good bits. We had all of the game and all of the ball in their half of the pitch. Yes, at times we're not creating as much as we'd want, but that's the hardest part of the game and we need to keep working on it. It's not easy when a team like Gillingham come here with very high levels of motivation, put a lot of bodies behind the ball and make it hard for us to create spaces. 

"We need to keep going with that process, we need everyone to be behind it. The fans can see that we're trying to develop a style of play that is going to be really important for us over the next few years, that is going to help us win a lot of games and climb to where we want to climb. We need to be patient with that, we need to trust and back that process and we need everyone to stick with us, as the fans today did.

"That's the journey we are on. We need to keep improving. We will keep improving. Obviously picking up wins along the way helps with confidence."

With Town having failed to have a shot on target in their 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday the previous weekend, McKenna said: "It's been an issue all season to be honest - we haven't had a very high volume of shots.

"It's down to a mixture of things. We need to have the right balance of patience, where we don't give the ball away cheaply and don't end up in tit-tat, ding-ding game that others teams are more suited to. That's what happened in the second half today.

"We had that patience in the first half but we didn't penetrate enough and we didn't manage to find balls into the front enough where the strikers could do the damage and where others could join in from.

"We have to get that balance right. It's not easy for any team in world football when any team comes and puts 10 men on the edge of the box and runs really hard. It's not easy to carve them open and create a lot of big chances.

"Teams are giving us a lot of respect at the moment in terms of dropping off us and trying to deny us space. Even Sheffield Wednesday last week, at home, such a big club, they were happy to have 10 men on the edge of their box defending at times.

"That respect is because of the football they've seen we're capable of playing. That then brings a new challenge, a challenge that the players aren't entirely used to in terms of being in a team that is as dominant as we were in that first half. But we need to keep going. I'm very, very confident that this is the way forward for the football club. We have to develop that style of play and become a dominant, pro-active team who are ready to take the ball against any opposition and play in their half and control games.

"But it's not an easy process. We need to keep going, we need to stick together, keep working through the process and try to get as many wins along the way. I know that we'll improve over time."

Conor Chaplin about to pull the trigger and fire Town into a 1-0 lead.

Conor Chaplin about to pull the trigger and fire Town into a 1-0 lead. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Reflecting further on the game, he said: "We spoke about needing to be patient. We went to Gillingham four weeks ago and it was a different Gillingham team. Everything went our way that day, we scored two, three goals early on and then went on to play some really vintage football. We try and do that every game, but it's not always going to happen

"First half we had good control, 70% plus possession, had them pinned back in their half, but it was a challenge to create. That's something we need to keep getting better at.

"But we need to be patient as a club, we need to trust in the process, keep developing our style of play.

"Second half it became more difficult because we went away from that. We got caught in a fight with them, it because a tit-for-tat game that suited them more than us and in the end we were probably fortunate to get the three points.

"There's a lot to take from the game.

"I think clean sheets are massive for us. I think that's our fourth clean sheet in seven games. I'm not sure how many there were before that. If you have that sort of record across a season then you have a good chance.

"It's a big physical effort, a big shift, good mentality and after we got the goal we saw it out well. We take the three points and move on.

"We know it's a big ask (to make the play-offs) and that we need win a lot of games. There's very little margin for error. Our home form is massive - that gives us three wins on the spin at home. That's going to be really important.

"It's a big three points but we know we've got an awful lot to do. All we can do is fight every game and give everything we've got."

Wes Burns limped off early in the second half of this game, with McKenna explaining: "Hopefully it's not too bad. I haven't had the full run down, but speaking to him at half-time he had received a knock. It was nothing more than that, but he wanted to give it a go at the start of the second half. He wasn't quite able to run it off, but as he came off he said it was just a knock. Fingers crossed that won't be too long."

On his decision to give Joe Pigott a rare start up front, McKenna said: "He's deserved it to be honest. He's been training ever so well and showing all the qualities why he's at the football club.

"To be honest we didn't get the service up to his feet enough that he needs today, but when we did he managed to hold it up well and link the play well at times.

"He's an important member of the squad. We've got good options up front and we've managed to use three of them today. Obviously we've got Kayden (Jackson) as well, who is ready to contribute. We're going to need them all over the course of the games.

"Joe put in a good shift today and Macauley (Bonne) came on after that and helped us see the game out well.

"There's good competition and they're all pulling in the same direction."

On Chaplin getting his ninth goal of the season, McKenna said: "Conor's tally is obviously growing. I thought it was a good goal. First half we'd got Janoi (Donacien) and George (Edmundson), as our side centre-backs, high up the pitch on the ball, but we didn't quite manage to find passes into the forwards' feet. The pleasing thing about the goal is we managed to get George stepping through the pitch, as he does, and he managed to find that penetrating pass into the forwards' feet.

"Everyone needs to do that a little bit more because we know we've got players who can score goals. It was a good touch and good finish from Conor and thankfully that was enough to win the game."

With Sone Aluko not in the 18-man squad, McKenna explained: "That was just choice. We've got a big squad, we had 22 outfield players training this week, everyone fighting for positions. Sone has been an important player fir us and he'll be an important player again. Today we just went with other options on the bench."