North Stander: What I want to see from McKenna's Town in 2022

Kieran McKenna officially takes charge of Ipswich Town today following his appointment last week

Kieran McKenna will lead Ipswich Town into 2022 - but what would be a success for the new boss? Terry Hunt offers his thoughts here - Credit: PA

Journalist and Ipswich Town fan Terry Hunt reflects on a hectic 2021 and looks ahead to 2022 in his final column of the year...

As this is my final column of 2021, I’ll do the traditional thing of looking back at the last year and also anticipating what 2022 might bring for Ipswich Town.

It’s fair to say that the last 12 months have been pretty tumultuous for Ipswich, with no fewer than three different managers, and Marcus Evans selling the club to new American owners with access to mega-millions.

So, it hasn’t been dull! But...on the pitch, where it really counts, the frustration has continued. We are still where we started 2021 - a mid-table League One side. And that certainly isn’t where we want to be, or where we should be.

It seems inconceivable now that Paul Lambert was still in charge when 2021 dawned, stumbling his way towards trying to find a consistently successful formula. It never worked.

Town manager Paul Lambert acknowledges fans ahead of the Ipswich Town v Preston North End game. P

It seems so long ago, but Paul Lambert was still Town boss at the start of 2021 - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

It became increasingly obvious that his days at Portman Road were numbered. He looked and sounded like a beaten man, certainly not helped by what was obviously a pretty nasty case of Covid.

It was a relief to all concerned when Lambert departed, being replaced by the ebullient Paul Cook, who looked like a great appointment, given his track record in the lower reaches of the Football League.

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Town were still within reach of the play-off places, so we all sat back in anticipation of a new manager bounce as the players worked their socks off to impress the gaffer. Because that’s what happens, isn’t it?

Well, it might happen at just about every other football club, but not it seems at Ipswich Town. What we actually witnessed was a new manager slump, with dreadful performances and results, as the play-offs quickly disappeared over the horizon.

Cook made his feelings known, comparing his players to a Sunday pub side on one memorable occasion, and promising to be “Demolition Man” in the summer as he took a wrecking ball to the first team squad.

By now, the Americans had bought the club, and immediately brought a new, refreshing and open relationship with the long-suffering supporters.

Now working with new chief executive Mark Ashton, Cook delivered on his “Demolition man” promise - with the vast majority of the players heading for the exit door, and being replaced by no fewer than 19 new players during a frenzied summer of activity.

Ipswich Towns Chief Executive Officer Mark Ashton celebrates.

CEO Mark Ashton has played a big part in what has been a hectic 2021 at Town - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

There were tales of big wages on offer, as we attracted pedigree performers like Bersant Celina and Sam Morsy. In the early stages of the season, the entertainment was certainly there, but results didn’t follow.

The most-used word became “gel” as we waited for the new players to get to know each other. There were some thrilling flashes, such as big wins at Portsmouth and Wycombe.

Then, suddenly, and inexplicably, it all went wrong again. We stopped scoring goals. We remained horribly inconsistent, both within games and between matches.

Then, totally unexpectedly, Cook was out of the door. These American guys clearly don’t mess about.

Town manager Paul Cook with his head down as he walks from the pitch.

Paul Cook's sacking was a shock - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Next through the now fast-revolving door to the manager’s office was Kieran McKenna, moving from first-team coach at Man Utd, no less, to take his first manager’s job. Brave...but potentially exciting.

Hopefully, McKenna will take charge of his first game on Wednesday evening. So, as we move towards a new year, another different era begins at Ipswich Town.

McKenna will be backed enthusiastically by the ever-loyal Town fans, who are desperate to see signs of recovery from what is the club’s lowest ebb for more than 60 years. It’s the worst spell the vast majority of supporters can remember.

Chief executive Ashton has already promised that McKenna will be able to strengthen the squad in January, which is welcome news. Despite the summer influx, we haven’t really progressed and it’s clear the squad is still lacking something.

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

New Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna pictured at Portman Road on his first day in the job - Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd

They are flakey, too often surrendering leads and dropping points from winning positions. Short term, the top six is still achievable, at least in theory, but I think most sensible fans will be patient.

We do need to see progress under McKenna, but it won’t happen overnight. I would love the team to develop a recognisable style, and a personality, the Ipswich way of playing, if you like.

It was good to hear McKenna talking about that - a style of playing - as being more important to him than the formation, which has become a much-discussed topic. Paul Cook’s refusal to be flexible was a real Achilles heel.

Of course, we all want success. In cloud cuckoo land, McKenna will find an instant magic formula and we’ll go on a magnificent winning run to storm into the play-offs.

Back in the real world, I’ll settle for clear progress, greater consistency, and a clearly identifiable Ipswich way of playing, hopefully leading to a strong promotion campaign in 2022-23.
 
I think that’s realistic. After the disappointments and frustrations of recent years, I’ll be pleased with that. Happy new year!

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