Since his appointment in early December, one of the main reasons Lee Johnson has earned more points than any other League 1 manager has been his positive impact he’s had on various individuals. Let's take a look at three players who, in particular, have improved massively since the arrival of the Head Coach...
After impressing in his initial games at the club with his energy, goal contributions and link-up play, Max Power has never looked the same since (until lately). Under Phil Parkinson, the skipper's role was reduced to simply recycling possession and sitting back which often meant games passed him by. However, the freedom and confidence Lee Johnson has seemed to grant the League 1 winner has seen those traits come out again and allowed the ex-Wigan star to flourish once again. After covering at right back for the second half at home to Hull City, our number six has really grown into the role, at least to the point of adequate cover. More importantly, the ex-Wigan midfielder offers more going forward, when part of the midfield. With an increased tendency for link-up play, more forward runs and a higher involvement in the build-up play, Power is able to add to our offensive dynamic more now and earns his shirt each week. Having covered effectively at right back and enhanced his role in the middle of the park, the twenty-seven-year-old appears to have found his mojo once more, playing without the restraints Parkinson enforced upon him. Additionally, is it possible his time at right back allowed him some much-needed time out of the midfield? It's possible this switch in position was all that was needed to give him time away from the role and give him some sort of awakening. Regardless, he's a different man under LJ.
This one's fairly straightforward. After being reintroduced to the squad, Aiden McGeady didn't have the desired effect straight away. Understandably so, the ex-Celtic winger appeared to be simply regaining his fitness. Having not played a game of professional football from July (in Charlton's final game of the season) to December and needing to take a break from training only weeks after his return due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the squad, the thirty-four-year old's road to recovery was certainly disrupted but with 12 assists in the league in only 21 appearances, it's fair to say that was only temporary. In games such as the Papa John's Trophy final, he was able to come up with that moment of magic with one of the best-timed through balls I've personally witnessed, winning us game's when we would ordinarily fall short. Additionally, as previously mentioned, the re-introduction of McGeady into the fold has tremendously helped Charlie Wyke up-front. The decision to bring him back into the team has really paid off.
Probably the most obvious on this list, you'd be forgiven for believing this season's Charlie Wyke isn't the same player that we've been watching since 2018. Whilst the ex-Bradford City forward was already having a better season than his previous two (with five goals in fourteen league appearances up until Johnson's appointment equalling his tally for last season), our number nine has revolutionised as a goal-scorer since the appointment of the thirty-nine-year-old. With a staggering twenty-seven goals from all competitions so far this season, Johnson appears to have found a formula with the help of the two Aiden's. Firstly, and most importantly, welcoming Aiden McGeady back into the fold has worked wonders for him and has been somewhat of a cheat-code for supplying Wyke, most notably the four assists he provided at home to Doncaster. Additionally, the decision to partner Wyke alongside Aiden O'Brien has allowed Wyke to focus on simply scoring goals. With O'Brien often doing a lot of the legwork, Wyke's workload has been severely reduced. Whereas under Parkinson Wyke was often up-top alone with little service, he now has a strike partner to aid his pursuit of scoring goals, with a lot more chances from wide areas, effectively utilising the twenty eight year old's knack of scoring with his first touch. After coming in and assessing the lads in the squad, it appears Johnson was able to pinpoint how to replicate the form Wyke experienced in his time at Bradford and has executed it perfectly.
Honourable mentions go to Connor McLaughlin, who we've seen the best out of since Johnson's appointment. Luke O'Nien after being tremendous cover at centre-back in our injury crisis. Aiden O'Brien for finding his role as a second striker and Callum McFadzean due to his recent improvement in his last four games. I'd put Dion Sanderson in there too, but his chance has come at a time when it's been forced upon us, really.
It's fair to say we're an entirely different team under Lee Johnson, which I put mainly down to our newly found ability to score a plethora of goals. Previously under Parkinson, we'd often find ourselves not being effective enough in possession and rarely creating chances however the insight of Johnson allows us to give ourselves every opportunity of scoring. When we're playing well, we look in cruise control and when we aren't, such as away to Accrington, at Wembley, or at home to Swindon, we still find a way to make our possession count to get ourselves on the scoresheet, and Johnson deserves serious credit for giving us the tools to do so through re-inspiring Charlie Wyke and playing in such a way that forces defences into errors. With the re-introduction of McGeady and other key alterations being at the centre of this change, it's fair to say the boss has sent us flying towards the top of the table.