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      Bristol Rovers 0 Ipswich Town 0: Kieran McKenna’s verdict

      ByMonelo Gabriel

      Feb 14, 2023

      Not for the first time this season, the Blues were frustrated by a team that defended deep and sought to play on the counter-attack.

      With his team slipping to fourth in the League One table, McKenna said: “Look, we’re playing tonight against one of the most aggressive, open and attacking teams in the league who usually score a lot and concede a lot.

      “His coach, thanks to him for his honesty, apologized to me immediately after the match for not being willing to give us a match and not being willing to play in the normal way.

      “Believe me, he has the self-awareness and honesty to say that. I understand why, but it doesn’t help us.

      “That’s the level, I don’t know if you want to call it a respect level, because we haven’t won enough games, but that’s the approach that teams are taking against us a little bit more.

      “I felt like that might be the case after the Morecambe game, where a team came in and played open against us and we punished them in the first half.

      “I think we are up against a completely different Bristol team tonight than any Bristol team I have seen this season. That shows why they managed to grind a clean blade.

      “That is the challenge we face. We can’t hide from it. We need to face it. We need to keep working to find solutions individually. We have to keep working to find solutions tactically.

      “I thought tonight we tried a lot of different ways. We try to spend more time in front, we try to cross it, we try to get in on the feet, we try to get in from behind, we try to go early and aggressive with our substitutes.

      “We had 15 shots from inside the penalty area, 21 shots in total and we couldn’t find a goal.

      “Tonight was not enough and we just need to keep working to find solutions. It’s definitely a challenge.”

      MORE: Andy Warren’s player ratings following Town’s 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers.

      When told by McKenna that four wins out of 15 in the league weren’t good enough for a team with automatic promotion ambitions, he replied: “No. There is no escape from it. We know. There are too many giveaways. We haven’t lost many games, but there are too many draws.

      “I think in isolation, to be honest, a draw tonight, 0-0 away on a Tuesday night, when a team sets up like that against you and then has threats on the counterattack, a draw is not a disaster.

      “But the accumulation of ties makes it a disappointing run.

      “But these things can change. We have shown in the first half of the season that we can accumulate a lot of points. We showed in my time last year that we can collect a lot of points and have a race together.

      “That is not happening right now. I still feel like we’re not too far from that, to be honest. I feel like overall the performances and attitude haven’t been far off.

      “I don’t think we were very far tonight. But of course the fans don’t want to hear that right now. There is frustration there. I understand that.

      “From our point of view we have to keep working to find solutions, we have to maintain the confidence of the players because it is not easy for them at the moment. They desperately want to succeed too.

      “We need to stay strong and keep the confidence and belief high enough to give ourselves a good chance to win the next game and build on that.”

      Asked what he feels has been behind his team’s declining results since late October, McKenna said: “I don’t think it’s just one thing or that it’s easy to fix.

      “We have tied games. When you don’t win, of course your confidence can take a hit because you’re not winning games as freely as you used to and you’re not going into the game to win as freely. Individually they are not at the same level of confidence.

      “But they are very thin margins. We could have scored in the first minute today. We had a couple of opportunities in the first few minutes of the game and if one of them comes in, the game is different.

      “We had chances until the last minute of the game. They defended themselves en masse, they risked their bodies, they fought for zero to zero and they achieved it.

      “Those are the challenges that lie ahead. We just have to keep fighting, get the first win and make sure we keep the attitude consistent, as it was tonight, where I have no complaints.

      “Keep that attitude and just look to fight for one result in the moment.”

      Five of the top seven won tonight. Town are now eight points behind second-placed Sheffield Wednesday and just seven behind seventh-placed Wycombe (both teams have a game to go).

      “Look, we just have to focus on ourselves and try to win the next game (at home to Forest Green Rovers on Saturday),” McKenna said. “We’re not in a position to talk about winning runs or point totals because we’ve drawn too many games.

      “We need to win the next game and then fight to win the next game after that.

      “Only when we’ve done it more consistently can we worry about what other teams are doing.”

      Asked if pressure was a factor in wins draining, the Blues boss said: “I think it’s natural. Everyone loves him very much within the club and around the club.

      “The fans are here in droves, they have contributed a lot during the season. The players are giving a lot behind the scenes and are working hard.”

      “Of course everyone wants to be successful at the end of the season. When you’re on a streak where you’ve drawn too many games, then of course confidence isn’t as high as it was at the beginning of the season.

      “The only way to get it back is through hard work. I work hard back on the training ground, I work hard on Saturday, I work hard to fight to be on the right side of the sidelines and then that confidence can come back.”

      Having made four changes to his starting line-up tonight, he explained: “There are a few that we had no options on to be honest. There’s a quick change from Saturday and it’s a long drive.

      “Nathan (Broadhead) was not in shape to start the game. He cramped both hamstrings on Saturday and still feels tight, so medically he was limited with what he could do tonight.

      “Of course we are trying to rotate and refresh a bit in the forward positions.

      “But yeah… the players are fighting and they all want to claim and start many, many games.

      “That’s a challenge for them individually.”

      Asked if any of the injured trio George Edmundson, Massimo Luongo and Lee Evans could return in time for Saturday’s game, McKenna said: “Maybe George and Mass, possibly. They weren’t ready for today, but we hope they can join training on Thursday.

      “Lee Evans, no. There is still nothing confirmed about him. He is seeing the specialist this week and should be able to update him next Friday.”


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