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McKenna's Impact at Ipswich Town


The Tractor Boys are Ploughing On

Ipswich Town have made a record-breaking start to life back in English football's second tier after a four-year hiatus in the doldrums of League One. The Suffolk outfit have managed 11 wins from 14 games leaving them on 35 points, with only Leicester City above them as the table stands.

The rise of Ipswich is down to sustainable ownership from US-backed investment group Gamechanger20, who are investing on and off the pitch. But, the most valuable asset they’ve acquired is undoubtedly Kieran McKenna as manager, who is the second youngest manager in the EFL at just 37 years of age.

Mckenna extended his contract until 2027, and his Ipswich side have taken to Championship life like ducks to water. This article will delve deeper into what made Ipswich tick as they rallied to promotion in 2022/23, and how the Northern Irishman has woken up the county of Suffolk with a slick footballing style.

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Last updated 30/05/2024

Promotion Party in 2022/23

Ipswich were pipped to the title by a stubborn and outstanding Plymouth Argyle side. The Pilgrims finished on a staggering 101 points, but what is also incredible is Ipswich finished on 98 points, scoring 101 goals whilst being watertight at the back, conceding just 35 at the back.

Conor Chaplin ended up sharing the Golden Boot with 26 goals from attacking midfield, whilst goalkeeper Christian Walton kept 23 clean sheets earning him the Golden Glove award. These accolades are a testament to what a well-oiled machine Ipswich were during this campaign.

Throughout the whole of the 2022/23 League One crusade, Ipswich lost just four times and went on a 19-game unbeaten run to beat Sheffield Wednesday for the final promotion spot. During this surge towards the Championship, the Tractor Boys won eight consecutive games, keeping 12 clean sheets in the final 15 matches, winning 6-0 on two occasions in April, and dismantling promotion rivals Peterborough United and Barnsley 0-3 on their own patches.

Promotion was sealed in the 6-0 demolition of Exeter City. Any pre-match nerves soon dissipated as Ipswich were 5-0 up just before the 30-minute mark as the promotion party began.

Kieran McKenna’s Impact

The Student

McKenna is a former apprentice of the likes of Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and knows what it was like to coach at the highest level. The 37-year-old actually started out as Tottenham Hotspur’s Under 18s manager while Mauricio Pochettino was at the club between 2015-16, before swiftly making the move to Old Trafford.

It was at Manchester United where McKenna would come to recognition, having been promoted to Assistant Manager in 2018 under the Special One following two seasons as the Red Devils Under 18s manager.

During his time as assistant manager of United, McKenna’s training methods received a lot of praise from club staff and following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November 2021, McKenna moved on just one month later, deciding to take the vacant Ipswich Town job which would be his first crack at management, taking over from Paul Cook on 16th December that year.

McKenna’s Footballing Principles

McKenna didn’t change too much once he arrived as he adopted a 3-5-2 formation which caretaker John McGreal had implemented. He kicked off his reign as boss with a narrow 1-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers at Portman Road.

As he settled in, Mckenna’s team identity became clearer. Adopting a ‘hybrid’ 4-2-3-1 formation with an aggressive high press, his side became a huge force in League One as his critics were becoming silent.

Ipswich have core principles that includes building the ball out from the back. His 23 months at the helm boasts the interesting stat that his Ipswich side haven’t conceded a goal from playing the ball out from the back. He trusts and encourages his players to make brave decisions which created heart-in-mouth moments for the fans, which they’ve now become accustomed to on the terraces.

McKenna’s Team Culture

It's not just on the pitch McKenna is having an impact, but off the pitch, he introduced a leadership squad which the players vote for four representatives to give them a voice on ways to improve and evolve the experience to boost the margins for victory on a matchday. New pitches at the training ground as well as innovations to the changing room are just two areas which have been improved since this policy came to fruition.

He is meticulous when it comes to preparation. For home games his players meet at the stadium, only to get a bus to the training base, which they then head back to the stadium for the match. Sounds bizarre, right?! However, McKenna insists that this gives his side the best possible chance of claiming maximum points as his team conduct themselves in the most professional manner. If they want to be a Premier League side, they need to act like one.

The Current State of Play

McKenna’s accomplishments put his Tractor Boys at the top of the European form table, ahead of the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich. Despite his side's excellent attacking metrics, a team that saw almost an average of 60% possession in League One now sees just under 48% having made the step up. This hasn’t stopped his side from steamrolling opposition in the Championship, with only Leeds United able to claim a pulsating 3-4 victory over them.

Even though the quality of the opposition has undoubtedly improved, they’re the fastest attacking team in England, which demonstrates McKenna’s ability to articulate his messages clearly to his players, having kept the same principles as to what saw them be successful last season. Ipswich have multiple attacking threats both out wide and centrally, with Chaplin (5 goals and 2 assists in 14 games) and current top scorer Nathan Broadhead (6 goals and 1 assist in 12 matches) causing chaos for Championship defenders.

Starting as well as Ipswich and Leicester is rare and will require the same consistent standards that got them promoted last season. McKenna has managed 97 games with an average of over two points per game. If this form can be maintained, don’t be surprised to see Ipswich Town in the Premier League for the first time since 2001/02, and Kieran Mckenna join Town greats of the past such as Sir Alf Ramsay and Sir Bobby Robson as one of the Tractor Boys best ever managers.