LEE JOHNSON - A WEST COUNTRY PERSPECTIVE



Lee Johnson arrives at Sunderland after a four-and-a-half-year spell as Bristol City head coach. Former A Love Supreme contributor Keith Watson, now the sports editor of the Western Daily Press newspaper, which covers the Ashton Gate club, tells us about the 39-year-old's time with the Robins


Although it is my belief that football manager betting markets often take shape as a result of some bloke having a cheeky £20 wager during his lunch hour, it is not so long ago that Lee Johnson was among the contenders for a Premier League job, so how did he end up being sacked by Bristol City? Well, the short answer is that he was unable to get the Robins into the top flight, or at the very least into the Championship play-offs.


After taking over at City from former Stadium of Light touchline scribbler Steve Cotterill, Johnson kept the Ashton Gate club in the Championship at the end of the 2015-16 campaign and consolidated the following season. Since then, though, expectation levels rose in the West Country, and three successive campaigns where City held a play-off place well into the season, only to fall away when it mattered, prompted his departure.


There are, of course, mitigating circumstances. After registering some sizeable annual losses just under a decade ago, City have adopted a more balanced financial approach in recent years, although that has largely amounted to saving themselves from the same sort of losses by selling their best players whenever the need arises.


Premier League players such as Adam Webster, Josh Brownhill, Joe Bryan and Bobby Decordova-Reid all commanded multi-million pound fees, while Lloyd Kelly, Aden Flint and Marlon Pack did not leave cheaply either.


In simply treading water while losing such players, Johnson did a decent enough job, but his insistence that City were on an upward curve despite all the sales, rather than dampening down expectations, was probably a factor in his departure in July.


In terms of the actual football, Johnson is viewed as a technically-impressive coach, something picked up when he locked horns with Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola during City's run to the League Cup semi-finals in the 2017-18 season.


He has an eye for a young player, such as when taking an 18-year-old Tammy Abraham on loan from Chelsea, although borrowing bigger club's prospects tended to supersede looking at the club's own youngsters, and while he bought a number of good players over the years, including the aforementioned Webster, Callum O'Dowda and Daniel Bentley, he failed to get a tune out of the likes of Lois Diony, Gustav Engvall, Ryan Kent and Jens Hegeler, the latter reminiscent of Thomas Helmer's move to Wearside.


Another characteristic of City under Johnson was their form, which led to the head coach pretty much giving himself the nickname 'Streaky'. One month they could string three or four wins together, then the next the club would embark on an even longer losing run.


Ultimately, it was this inconsistency that cost Johnson his job in Bristol, and the fact remains that while he left City, and indeed Barnsley and Oldham before them, in a better place than when he joined, he has yet to record a promotion on his managerial CV, something which, let's be honest, is the bare minimum requirement for his tenure at Sunderland.


Trusted lieutenant Jamie McAllister has joined Johnson on Wearside after following the boss out of the door at City, an interesting side issue as McAllister's fellow assistant head coach under Johnson, Dean Holden, was retained and is now in sole command at Ashton Gate.


Johnson will certainly make an effort to get the fans onside, something that was evident in his post-Wigan interview when he admitted the supporters would want honesty from him, while acknowledging he had to be careful not to crush the fragile confidence of his players.


Sunderland have also appointed a sporting director in Kristjaan Speakman, but all concerned at the Black Cats are more likely to require the services of TV therapists Nik and Eva Speakman if Johnson cannot turn things around.


Oh, and expect a pre-season tour to Devon in 2021. With Johnson's father Gary in charge of Torquay, the 'Johnson Cup', last played between Bristol City and Cheltenham, could well be back on.