Gillingham thrashings have 'zero relevance' now, says McKenna

Ipswich Manager Kieran McKenna at Gillingham.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna knows a lot has changed at Gillingham since his side won 4-0 at Priestfield back in early January. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna has reminded his players that pressure is a privilege ahead of two games his side are very much expected to win.

With the gap to the play-off places having grown to nine points this week, Town have a golden opportunity to get some momentum going again when they take on the division's bottom two sides in Gillingham (at home tomorrow) and Doncaster (away on Tuesday).  

McKenna's men won 4-0 at Gillingham on January 8, while the Gills were thrashed 7-2 at home by Oxford United last weekend. Since then, however, Neil Harris has taken charge at Priestfield and, on Tuesday night, he oversaw a spirited 1-0 home win against Crewe that keeps alive the Kent club's hopes of beating the drop.

"When you're Ipswich and you're playing a team below you in the league then you are expected to win," said McKenna. "If we go away from home against a team top of the league we're also expected to win.

"I'll expect us to win too. That's par for the course at this club. That's how we want it to be - we want the expectations to be high.

"Playing at home in front of an expectant crowd, that's something we have to enjoy. That's a privilege of being here. If you come to Ipswich, whether that's as a manager, staff or player, you have to be ready to deal with expectation and enjoy that."

Macauley Bonne celebrates scoring the third goal at Gillingham.

Macauley Bonne celebrates scoring in Ipswich Town's 4-0 win at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

He continued: "In terms of having played Gillingham quite recently and Gillingham's game last weekend, I think that has almost zero relevance to be honest. 

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"They are playing a different system, they are playing with different principles, they are playing with different selection, they have new signings.

"I think the only reference point we have to prepare is their game against Crewe on Tuesday night in which I thought they were well-organised, spirited, competitive and put in a really good performance in the first half where they probably could have been two or three-nil up at half-time.

"(Conor) Masterson has come in and played on the right of a back three.

"They've moved from being predominantly a back four to playing with a back five, they've moved from being a man-to-man marking team to being much more compact and defending zonally. They played a couple of different systems throughout the game the other night. They started off with split strikers and finished the game with a more orthodox 5-3-2. So there are a few tactical things we need to be prepared for.

"But any team can come to Portman Road and come up with a different game plan to what they've used in the previous week, so the focus has to be on our attitude and performance levels. 

"We have to focus on ourselves and perform as well as what we can. At home we think if we perform to our maximum levels we've got a good chance of winning against anyone."

Asked if he'd had any dealing with Harris over the years, McKenna replied: "Neil was on the Pro Licence course with me so we spent a couple of years together around St George's Park and also spent a week together out at the Toulon Tournament, which is part of the course. We've had contact on the phone over the last couple of years when he was at Millwall and Cardiff about (Manchester United) loan players at different times.

"So Neil is someone I know and respect. He's a good man, a good manager, has a good record and is a good coup of Gillingham. I'm sure they'll be stronger over the remaining games.

"He's managed to get a good response in the first game and coming off that win they're going to be really desperate to come to Portman Road and get something out of this game.

"We need to be ready mentally that the motivation of the opposition is going to be at a really high level."

Cardiff City manager Neil Harris during the FA Cup third round replay match at Brunton Park, Carlisl

Neil Harris' first game in charge of Gillingham ended with a 1-0 win against Crewe in midweek. - Credit: PA