Kieran McKenna will lead Ipswich Town for the first time when the Wycombe Wanderers visit Portman Road this evening. Andy Warren is looking forward to the game.
So many things have changed
Ipswich Town beat the Wycombe Wanderers 4-1 on their own ground in early November.
What has happened since would have been inconceivable as the Blues left the Adams Park stage to a standing ovation.
The two sides reunite just 57 days later, with Town’s world almost unrecognizable.
Les Bleus were knocked out from two cup competitions, saw a promising charge towards promotion places completely collapse, sacked a manager and appointed another. They have won only once in the league in seven attempts since inflicting that beating on Gareth Ainsworth’s men.
That period, with 2022 fast approaching, was meant to be when Ipswich stepped into the shoes of the top six, if not stepped in, having recovered from an extremely poor start.
Instead, we are at the start of a new era in search of positive signs.
But, despite a hugely disappointing two months, we’re here for the final game of 2021 with thousands of fans heading to Portman Road with a sense of hope.
The appointment of Kieran McKenna has been greeted with cautious optimism, putting a modern young manager at the head of a group of players who are surely far more talented than their league position suggests.
He had to wait for his first game in charge, after the Boxing Day clash with Gillingham was postponed due to Covid on the opposing side. But that does mean McKenna had a bit more time on the training ground before driving Town for the first time.
Like all Ipswich managers before him, McKenna will receive a warm welcome as he exits the Portman Road tunnel to meet the city’s supporters. Unfortunately, there will be no flags or fireworks this time around, unlike the visit to Sunderland earlier this month.
And he will do so in front of a crowd of around 26,000 – the first time a city manager has been cheered up by support still close to that number in his first home game since Roy Keane in May 2009. It is was a 2- 1 home win over Coventry in front of 27,225 spectators, while Jim Magilton drew more than 25,000 for his first game at the helm of Crystal Palace in 2006.
Keane’s victory turned out to be a false dawn. Hopefully a win in this one can be the start of something much more positive.
A crowd of this size is an incredible achievement, given Town’s current position in the league, and will give McKenna and those watching from the stands in costume yet another reminder of the scale of hope that a successful Ipswich team on the pitch can be.
What will we see?
It’s a big night for McKenna.
After climbing the ranks of the coaching tree, to a position almost as high as possible in the game before becoming manager, he is stepping out on his own for the first time.
He will have dreamed of this moment for a long time.
McKenna will learn a lot tonight and the thousands of spectators from the stands will learn a lot about him too.
We knew Paul Cook would come straight in and play a 4-2-3-1 system but, considering he’s never handled a senior game before, there’s no story telling us how McKenna is going to play things. .
In any case, the new boss has already said that it is the style and a holistic approach to the game that will support his football philosophy, rather than the formations.
McKenna watched from the stands Ipswich draw 1-1 with Sunderland in their last game and he’s seen a lot he loved.
He will have seen Macauley Bonne and James Norwood work hard and apply pressure in attack, Sam Morsy will have his best game in a long time in the center of midfield and the three defenders of Luke Woolfenden, Janoi Donacien and George Edmundson perform well for the vast majority of the game.
So it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the new boss sticks to much of what John McGreal, Kieron Dyer and Rene Gilmartin have done against the Black Cats.
The new boss will have learned a lot about his players in training this week, so it will be interesting to see if some of those who watched against Sunderland quickly made their way through.
Sadly, these previews are going to have to talk about the coronavirus again, given the havoc it has caused across the EFL in recent times.
Of the 33 EFL games scheduled for Boxing Day, only nine have been played. Town’s match at Gillingham was of course one of the casualties.
Former interim boss McGreal has spoken of Ipswich players missing games after coming in close contact with Covid cases during his short spell in charge and, with cases of the virus increasing, he’s quite possible McKenna will be without players for tonight’s contest. The town boss has previously revealed that the trio of Toto Nsiala, Kyle Edwards and Rekeem Harper have returned to training after missing a spell due to the virus. They are not ready to be involved tonight.
But the Blues have strict rules in place at their training ground and have been praised by the EFL on several occasions for their work in tackling the spread of Covid, so the new boss will have a good variety of options. available to him.
We will find out later.
Ready to go?
Tonight McKenna and the new boss are off to a good start.
But the big picture is large.
The Northern Irishman has spoken, in a low-key way rather than with any kind of message, that there is a lot to play by the end of the season and a group of players who have shown little signs of acceptance of the campaign is dead.
But the task is difficult.
Town, 11, is 17 points behind the first two and 10 behind the play-offs, the majority of those above and some behind holding games in hand.
It’s going to take a special race from this point on if Town is serious about going back.
But if we can’t be sure this happens on the morning of a new manager’s first game, then when can we do it?