North Stander: I'm being proved wrong - and I'm delighted about it!
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Journalist and Ipswich Town fan Terry Hunt shares his thoughts on the Blues after their 3-0 win over Burton Albion yesterday...
“I feel like a footballer again.” That quote from Kayden Jackson after his man of the match performance against Burton sums up a great deal about the exciting times under Kieran McKenna.
Unlike his predecessors, McKenna has obviously seen potential in Jackson and the striker now looks as though he has an important part to play in our club’s future.
Like most Town fans I suspect, I raised an eyebrow when I saw Jackson was starting on Saturday. But within 43 seconds, all the doubters had been proved wrong as he put us ahead.
He went on to produce an absolute masterclass, terrifying the Burton defence with his extreme pace, and - crucially - staying cool at crucial moments to lay on goals for Wes Burns and Bersant Celina.
Let’s not forget that three managers - Hurst (who bought him), Lambert and Cook had all failed to get the best out of Jackson. For long periods he was exiled to footballing Siberia and appeared to have no future at Portman Road.
Being honest, I didn’t think he was good enough. I said it only last week - lots of pace, yes, but not much else. But if McKenna can make him a player at this level, then I will be delighted to be proved wrong.
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Of course, the early goal meant Burton had to come out and play which played into our hands. Time and again, we got behind them. If Wes Burns had brought his best crossing boots, we could easily have had six or even more.
Obviously, a good display from Jackson is great to see, and everyone is delighted for him. But he will need to build on that, and produce the goods consistently.
I suspect McKenna will keep rotating his strikers, depending on the opposition. For example, Jackson won’t be so effective against teams who simply come to Portman Road and park the bus, which I expect we’ll see a lot of. He could be lethal in away games, though.
As I said at the beginning, the Jackson story sums up this new, exhilarating McKenna era. We don’t see what happens on the training pitches at Playford Road, but it is obviously mighty impressive. Analytical and intelligent.
McKenna clearly takes a view of the strengths and weaknesses of his squad, and works out ways to use them against each individual opponent. Jackson is the most obvious and most exciting example.
What impresses me most about McKenna’s team is the organisation. I know that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it’s vital. Every player clearly knows his job, and goes out there and does it. It’s not rocket science, as they say, but it’s been beyond our recent managers.
McKenna has found ways to unlock the potential of a squad which most of us knew should be in the top six of this league - at the very least.
Four clean sheets in a row tells you everything about the defence. There were a few wobbly moments against set-pieces on Saturday, but that organisation saw us survive. What a goal-line clearance from Lee Evans!
In the centre of midfield, Sam Morsy and Evans are a formidable partnership. Again, McKenna has them playing to their strengths. Then you add the creativity of Sone Aluko, Bersant Celina and Conor Chaplin, and you have a threat which will have League One defences quaking in their boots.
Look at our bench against Burton. Celina, Chaplin, Norwood, Bonne. All of those would be certain starters in most teams in this division. We didn’t see anything of Bonne on Saturday.
Our impressive results under McKenna are edging us ever closer to the top six, and we have the opportunity to make further progress in the next four games, all against teams in the bottom half.
We really do need an impressive points haul from those games, because there are much tougher tests to come. It won’t be easy - as I’ve said, lots of teams will just try to frustrate us - but I’m sure our bright young manager is already working out ways to unlock those packed defences.
The bottom line is that I feel more positive than for many years. I’m enjoying it, and I haven’t been able to say that very often lately!