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How the f*** are Ipswich Town joint-top of the Championship? McKenna is putting Ten Hag to shame

How the f*** are Ipswich Town joint-top of the Championship? McKenna is putting Ten Hag to shame

In 99 games, Kieran McKenna has transformed Ipswich Town and has them dreaming of a Premier League return. Maybe Manchester United should have appointed him…

I am only half-joking when I say that. Erik ten Hag‘s first season in charge was no doubt a huge success as – amid the whole Cristiano Ronaldo and Glazer family-enforced chaos – the Dutchman delivered a third-place finish and a Carabao Cup.

But a few months into the 2023/24 season, Man Utd and their manager are flailing and one reason for this is their clear lack of identity.

Their recent run of four wins in five Premier League games has papered over the cracks in the Ten Hag regime as his Man Utd side have barely gotten over the line in narrow victories over Brentford, Sheffield United, Fulham and Luton Town.

As proven at Ajax, Ten Hag is capable of being a top-tier manager but he is succumbing to the broken Old Trafford culture that they hope will be positively overhauled by incoming stakeholder Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

While Ten Hag struggles to mould Man Utd around his Ajax-inspired coaching philosophy, former Red Devils coach McKenna is loving life down at Ipswich Town.

Ipswich boss McKenna

Upon his arrival at the end of 2021, Ipswich were spinning their wheels in League One without being able to put up a serious fight for promotion back to the Championship.

The appointment of McKenna was viewed as a bit of a risk at the time but with them struggling to end their stagnation, they were right to think outside the box and are now reaping the rewards of such a bold call.

There has been an evident switch in approach from certain Football League sides of late, with veterans like Steve Bruce and Dean Smith being overlooked for roles, while renowned coaches are being afforded their first crack at management.

For the most part, this is working a treat with Enzo Maresca and Liam Rosenior taking the Championship by storm. But there is perhaps no better manager under 40 in the Football League than McKenna.

On Saturday evening, Ipswich face West Brom at the Hawthorns in McKenna’s 100th game in charge and they have come such a long way since the 37-year-old took over almost two years ago.

McKenna has given Ipswich an obvious style of play and they have become bloody fun to watch in the process. With their technically gifted attacking players, the head coach has enforced an attractive front-foot mindset with their possession-based approach play allowing them to control most of their opponents and on top of that, they are capable of transitioning between formations at the drop of a hat.

Ipswich’s performances and consistency reached frightening levels during last season’s League One run-in as their 19-game unbeaten form to end the campaign saw them pip Sheffield Wednesday to the second automatic promotion place behind champions Plymouth Argyle.

Even before strengthening in the summer, the Tractor Boys would have found the transition into the Championship pretty comfortable, which is not usually the case for sides stepping up from the third tier.

The difference in budget between the two divisions is pretty stark and while Ipswich are better off financially than most, they did not exactly break the bank to bridge the gap.

While McKenna has been in charge, Ipswich have spent over £1m on three separate transfers with Leif Davis, Jack Taylor and George Hirst signing from Leeds, Peterborough and Leicester respectively.

All three players have been hits at Ipswich and barring them, the club have expertly utilised the loan market with Brandon Williams (Manchester United), Omari Hutchinson (Chelsea) and Dane Scarlett (Tottenham) among this season’s recruits.

When you look at Ipswich’s squad on paper, it is far from the strongest in the Championship, but McKenna’s coaching is at such a level it has enabled them to enjoy a dream start to this season.

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Ipswich were always going to head into their return campaign in the Championship full of confidence after they were riding the crest of a wave at the end of last season.

Many tipped them to be this season’s surprise promotion candidate but few could have anticipated them doing this well.

After 16 games, Ipswich are joint-top of the Championship on 39 points with Leicester City and they are nine points clear of third-placed Leeds United.

Daniel Farke’s side are the only team who have beaten Ipswich in the Championship this season and they have only lost two league games in their 45 games overall in 2023. Simply ludicrous.

Given the strength of the sides coming down from the Premier League, it was going to take something special to separate them at the top of the Championship this season and Ipswich are on course to do just that.

And while I tipped them to end up third in my latest predictions for the final 23/24 table, I would be gleeful at the prospect of being proven wrong on this one. Ipswich becoming only the fourth team in history to win back-to-back automatic promotions from League One to the Premier League would be an unbelievable story.

In the headline, I asked: ‘How the f*** are Ipswich Town joint-top of the Championship?’

A worthy question as given the quality of their squad, Ipswich have no right to be in the position they are. But they are managing to defy all expectations because of the remarkable work McKenna is doing to get the maximum out of his whole squad, both from a performance and tactical standpoint.

So the answer revolves around McKenna being a bloody good manager, who gave up a cushy gig at Man Utd for the stresses of being a full-time head coach in the Football League.

McKenna’s bet on himself has made it only a matter of time before he is a Premier League manager himself and Ten Hag could learn a thing or two from the former Man Utd coach with regards to how successfully build a club around your image. Frankly, he is putting the Dutchman to shame.

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