Kieran McKenna feels his Ipswich side have set the tone for their Sky Bet Championship season with their performance in their 2-1 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Having won promotion from League One last term, Ipswich returned to the second tier in style as goals from Nathan Broadhead and George Hirst secured victory on Wearside.
Despite being reduced to 10 men when Trai Hume was sent off for two yellow cards, Sunderland rallied in the closing stages and halved their deficit courtesy of an 86th-minute goal from Dan Neil.
Neil also hit a post in 13 minutes of stoppage time, but Ipswich dug deep to see things through, with their resilience and spirit pleasing their head coach.
McKenna said: “The application of the players was excellent. We spoke before the game and said it would be very important in terms of setting the tone for what we want to do and how we’re going to be. I thought we set a very good tone for how hard we’re going to work.
“It was a really high level and a big challenge, against a very strong opponent, at home, with a full house and good momentum.
“It took every ounce of effort from the whole squad that we had to be competitive and make sure we were able to get the result.”
Ipswich regularly put opposition sides to the sword last season, but McKenna accepts they will have to be a little more circumspect at a higher level.
However, while he acknowledges there will be times when his players have to dig in with their backs to the wall, he also wants them to continue to express themselves, as they did against the Black Cats.
He said: “We know we’re going to have to defend more in this division. We want to press more aggressively than we managed to do in the first half.
“I think the level of the game and the opponent was certainly a step up and I think the players felt that in the first 20 minutes. We weren’t able to break their press as well as we wanted, so we needed to be a bit more aggressive.
“We know we’re going to have to defend at times, but we also know we’re going to have to show bits of what we did today in terms of being brave in our build-up and being patient in possession to try to get through the pitch.
“As the game wore on, I thought we started finding our men and breaking the lines much better.”
Tony Mowbray was left to reflect on what might have been, with his side only really stirring once they had been reduced to 10 men.
With Ross Stewart still injured, Hemir, a 19-year-old summer signing from Benfica’s reserve ranks, led the line, with Sunderland’s recruitment team hoping to bring in at least one more forward before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Mowbray said: “You have to put the ball in the net when the chances come and I don’t want to keep banging the drum, but we need more options and the club are trying really hard to do that.
“We are putting bids in. To find strikers worldwide is really difficult as huge clubs in the Premier League are finding.
“Hopefully there will be some more attacking options in the squad in the next week or two, then they’ll have to settle in.
“I think we’ll get stronger. In six or seven weeks, hopefully we have Ross Stewart down the middle, Bradley Dack might be playing off him. There’s enough there to say we’ll be fine.”