When former Manchester United first-team coach Kieran McKenna was appointed Ipswich Town manager and took his first steps into senior management, it’s fair to say that a few eyebrows were raised.
The Tractor Boys, renowned for entrusting experienced EFL bosses with the duty of patrolling the Portman Road touchline, decided to pursue a different path when relative unknown McKenna took over the reigns from Paul Cook in December.
However, the 35-year-old has proved to be a revelation, winning six and drawing two of his opening 10 games as Ipswich have risen to eighth in League One and just five points off the play-off places.
“He’s been in charge for nine games, we’ve won six, drawn one and lost two, so we’re averaging over two points a game, which is all you can ask for and across a season that’s title-winning form.
“But what’s really impressed me is the off-field stuff, the level of insight he gives in press conferences with regards to tactics, formations and patterns of play is a complete breath of fresh air.
“It makes you feel more involved as a fan when you’re hearing this from the guy in charge and long may it continue as so far it’s going really, really well.”
McKenna’s predecessor, Paul Cook, was sacked after Town’s goalless draw at home to League Two side Barrow in the FA Cup.
The result meant Ipswich had won just two of their last nine matches in all competitions, and just one victory from four in their most recent League One fixtures.
Ipswich were 11th in the table at the time, seven points behind the playoff places and 11 points behind leaders Rotherham.
“The departure of Paul Cook was a little bit surprising,” says Seb.
“Ipswich are not a club that regularly sacks managers and Kieran McKenna is only the 19th in our entire history.
“We are a known, sometimes to our detriment, as a club that gives managers sometimes more time than they deserve.
🤔 “What’s really impressed me is the off-field stuff.”
👏 “He’s a breath of fresh air from what we’ve had before under previous managers.”
— FansBet (@FansBet) February 16, 2022
“Under Cook, we never really got going. He came in roughly a year ago and we were two or three points off the play-offs but we could never string a run of wins together.
“In the nine months he was with us, we only managed to get back-to-back wins once and that was courtesy of a 90th minute winner.
“Our owners don’t want to be in League One and you could see that by the summer recruitment drive and they felt it was time for a change and so far McKenna has proved they were correct in that decision.”
The Northern Irishman joined the League One club on a three-and-a-half year contract, having previously worked under interim boss Ralf Rangnick who arrived at Old Trafford in November and the outgoing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prior to that.
Forced to retire from football at an early age due to a long-term injury, McKenna immediately began coaching in the Tottenham Hotspur Academy, where he spent seven years learning the ropes.
He joined United as Under-18s coach and quickly enhanced his growing reputation, being promoted to the first-team staff under Jose Mourinho and was a prominent part of Solskjaer’s backroom team.
But the former United man felt that taking the Ipswich job was the right time, project and club to make his first step into management.
“Promotion for me is still going to be a very big ask,” explains Seb.
“We are still handicapped from the start we had under Paul Cook and despite what McKenna is achieving on the pitch, we’re reliant on others slipping up.
“We’ve got two weekends on the bounce in March where we play Oxford away and Plymouth at home and they’re going to be the two games where we find out how the season is going to play out.
“There’s a lot of traffic between us and the play-offs or fifth place so all we can do is continue doing what we are doing, getting those points averages in and seeing how the season plays out.
After suffering his first loss in his first senior management role against Bolton Wanderers, McKenna responded with four wins from five league matches.
The Tractor Boys are now up to ninth in League One and just five points off the play-off places.
And with 17 League One games remaining, McKenna will be hoping to build on the momentum gained as his side go in search of a play-off spot, though Seb feels promotion might be something that has to wait another season.
“If we are to achieve a return to the Championship – and that feels a long way off at the moment – all we can do is keep playing how we have since McKenna came in,” he says.
“The points-per-game average is enough to get us there but I feel we may run out of games, but if we can go into the summer seeing established patterns of play then I’ll be very confident for this time next year.”
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